Washington State Appellate Court Holds PCP’s Sexual Relationship With Patient May Be Medical Malpractice

The Court of Appeals of the State of Washington (“Washington Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on May 11, 2020: “a primary care physician who provides mental health services to a patient may be liable for malpractice for injuries arising from the doctor’s sexual relationship with that patient.”

The Underlying Facts

In August 2015, Monique Messenger (“Monique”) and her primary care physician (“defendant’) began an extramarital sexual relationship. Monique alleged that before and during the affair, the defendant treated her for depression. Monique’s husband eventually discovered the affair and confronted her with his knowledge.

In June 2016, the defendant and Monique met and ended their relationship. Monique alleged that during their meeting, the defendant threatened to kill her, her husband, and himself. The defendant committed suicide at home later that evening.

The Washington medical malpractice plaintiffs sued the defendant’s estate for medical malpractice, claiming the defendant violated his duty of care to Monique by engaging in a sexual relationship with her.

The defendant’s estate filed a motion for summary judgment, which the court granted. The plaintiffs appealed.

Washington Appellate Court Opinion

The Washington Appellate Court held: “We conclude that the [plaintiffs] have established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [the defendant] treated Monique’s mental health issues. We also conclude that a primary care physician who provides mental health treatment to a patient may be subject to malpractice liability for engaging in a sexual relationship with that patient, and that the [plaintiffs] have established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [the defendant] breached his duty to Monique.”

The Washington Appellate Court explained that in Monique’s November 8, 2012 medical record, the defendant noted that Monique had an “[a]djustment disorder with depressed mood,” “has been feeling ok,” “continues to have difficulty with her separation with her husband,” “has periods of depression,” and “has been seeing a counselor.” He also noted that her “mood [is] ok,” “affect [is] anxious,” “[t]hought process [is] logical and linear without loosening of associations or flight of ideas,” that her “[t]hought content [is] normal,” that she “[d]enies suicidal or homicidal ideation,” and that she “[d]enies audio or visual hallucinations.” The defendant also noted that Monique should “continue counseling.” The Washington Appellate Court held, “When viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the [plaintiffs], one could reasonably conclude that [the defendant] provided Monique with mental health services. Thus, the medical records establish a genuine issue of material fact that [the defendant] treated her mental health issues.”

Furthermore, Monique testified during her deposition that the defendant had spoken to her about her postpartum depression, asked questions about how she felt, and offered to prescribe her antidepressants. The Washington Appellate Court stated, “Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the [plaintiffs], one could reasonably conclude that [the defendant] provided Monique with mental health services.”

The Washington Appellate Court further held that the defendant’s estate “has waived the dead man’s statute’s protections by introducing the medical records” because “[t]he medical records are also self-serving to the Estate in that they present little to no evidence that [the defendant] treated Monique’s mental health issues, save for the November 8, 2012 record. After beginning a sexual relationship with Monique, [the defendant] had reason to fabricate the records, and minimize the fact of any possible mental health treatment he provided to Monique; he may have engaged in such fabrication.” (“we still conclude the Estate waived the dead man’s statute’s protections because the records are self-serving to the Estate”).

However, “the [plaintiffs] may introduce Monique’s statements only if they rebut the evidence in the medical records. Most of the records show no evidence of mental health treatment; Monique’s declaration and deposition, in which she claims [the defendant] provided her with such treatment, rebut the medical records.” (“Monique’s testimony is admissible if it contradicts her medical records”)

The Washington Appellate Court held: “Because the [plaintiffs] have established a genuine issue of material fact as to whether [the defendant] provided Monique with mental health treatment, we need not reach the issue of whether any physician who engages in a sexual relationship with a patient commits malpractice. Instead, we analyze whether a primary care physician who provides mental health services to a patient commits malpractice by engaging in a sexual relationship with that patient.”

The Washington Appellate Court held: “we conclude that a primary care physician who provides mental health services to a patient may be liable in malpractice for injuries arising from the doctor’s sexual relationship with that patient. Such liability may attach when, in the course of such treatment, transference and a mishandling of that transference occurs, causing injuries as a result of health care under the meaning of RCW 7.70.”

Source Messenger v. Whitemarsh, No. 80639-4-I.

If you or a loved one may have been harmed due to an inappropriate sexual relationship with a physician in Washington or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Washington medical malpractice lawyer (or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state) who may investigate your inappropriate sexual relationship medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 at 5:30 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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