The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department (“New York Appellate Court”) held in its Memorandum And Order dated March 19, 2021: “it is well established that the law cannot provide a remedy for every injury incurred . . . Were we to extend defendant[s’] duty to the child herein, there would be a far-reaching effect on physicians who treat patients with children. Physicians should be permitted to limit their treatment to the best interests of the patient and leave to others the responsibility for the nonmedical concerns of third parties who may be affected by that treatment.””
The Underlying Facts
Plaintiff, as administrator of decedent’s estate, commenced a New York medical malpractice and wrongful death action against Rochester Regional Health, Unity Mental Health (UMH), Rochester General Hospital (RGH), and Marc Johnson, MHC (collectively, defendants), among others, seeking damages for, inter alia, the negligent treatment of plaintiff’s wife and failure to provide proper instruction to her family members regarding her mental health care. The complaint alleged that plaintiff’s wife was hospitalized for several weeks at RGH due to her mental health status. In the days immediately following her discharge, plaintiff’s wife twice treated with Johnson at UMH. Shortly after his wife’s second session with Johnson, plaintiff, prompted by his wife’s worsening condition, began calling UMH at various times over the course of two days seeking additional care. He was advised that his wife should keep her upcoming psychiatric appointment, which was scheduled for approximately two weeks in the future. On the evening of the second day, plaintiff’s wife killed their son (decedent) with a knife.
New York Medical Malpractice Law
Generally, medical providers owe a duty of care only to their patients, and courts have been reluctant to expand that duty to encompass nonpatients because doing so would render such providers liable to a prohibitive number of possible plaintiffs. The scope of that duty of care has, on occasion, been expanded to include nonpatients where the defendants’ relationship to the tortfeasor placed them in the best position to protect against the risk of harm, and balancing factors such as the expectations of the parties and society in general, the proliferation of claims, and public policies affecting the duty proposed tilted in favor of establishing a duty running from defendants to plaintiffs under the facts alleged.
New York Appellate Court Opinion
The New York Appellate Court stated: “Under the circumstances of this case, however, we conclude that those factors do not favor establishing a duty running from defendants to decedent. The complaint herein does not allege that plaintiff’s wife sought treatment specifically in order to prevent physical injury to decedent or her family, that defendants were aware whether she had threatened or displayed violence towards her family in the past, or that defendants directly put in motion the danger posed by the patient … As we have previously stated, “[w]hile the temptation is always great to provide a form of relief to one who has suffered, it is well established that the law cannot provide a remedy for every injury incurred . . . ”
Source Cardenas v. Rochester Regional Health, CA 20-00131.
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