v. Lederle Laboratories, 1997 N.Y. Int. 170 (Oct. 23, 1997).
DUTY OF CARE -- DOCTOR/PATIENT RELATIONSHIP -- SPECIAL
DOCTOR OWES A DUTY OF REASONABLE CARE TO THE PARENTS
OF AN INFANT-PATIENT AS TO THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF THE INFANT-PATIENT'S
[SUMMARY] | [ISSUE & DISPOSITION]
| [AUTHORITIES CITED] | [COMMENTARY]
Plaintiff contracted polio from an oral polio vaccine given to his daughter
and was subsequently rendered paraplegic. Plaintiff and his wife
brought action against both the doctor who vaccinated the child and the
laboratory that manufactured the vaccine. The doctor moved to dismiss
the action against him on the ground that the claim was based entirely
on a failure to obtain the statutory informed consent mandated by N.Y.
Public Health Law § 2805-d
, and did not constitute a cause of
action because Plaintiffs were not the doctor's patients. The Supreme
Court granted the doctor's motion and the Appellate Division affirmed.
Maintaining that their claim is founded on a common law cause of action,
ISSUE & DISPOSITION
Whether the duty of reasonable care that a doctor owes his infant-patient
should be extended to include the infant-patient's parents.
Yes. A doctor has a duty to warn parents of any well-recognized danger
to their immediate family resulting from treatment of infant-patient.
Cases Cited by the Court
Plummer v. Lederle Laboratories, 819 F.2d 349 (2d Cir. 1987).
Purdy v. Public Adm'r of County of Westchester, 72 N.Y.2d 1 (N.Y.
Eiseman v. State of New York, 70 N.Y.2d 175 (N.Y. 1987).
Bovsun v. Sanperi, 61 N.Y.2d 219 (N.Y. 1984).
De Angelis v. Lutheran Med. Ctr., 58 N.Y.2d 1053 (N.Y. 1983).
Miller v. Rivard, 585 N.Y.S.2d 523 (N.Y. App. Div. 1992).
Davis v. Rodman, 147 Ark. 385 (Ark. 1921).
Bradshaw v. Daniel, 854 S.W.2d 865 (Tenn.
DiMarco v. Lynch Homes Chester County, Inc., 583 A.2d 422 (Pa. 1990).
Skillings v. Allen, 173 N.W. 663 (Minn. 1919).
Other Sources Cited by the Court
Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1976).
Garcia v. Santa Rosa Health Care Corporation, 925 S.W.2d 372 (Tex.
App. 1996), writ granted, 40 Tex. Sup. Ct. J. 1956 (Tex. 1997).
Reisner v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 31 Cal. App. 4th 1195 (Cal.
Ct. App. 1995).
Hofmann v. Blackmon, 241 So. 2d 752 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1970).
Britton v. Soltes, 563 N.E.2d 910 (Ill. App. Ct. 1990).
State of the Law Before Tenuto
In Eiseman v. State of New York
, 70 N.Y.2d 175 (N.Y. 1987), the
Court of Appeals recognized that common morality, logic, and social policy
could permit limited extensions of the physician's duty of care to parties
other than the immediate patient under treatment where the circumstances
are appropriate. The Eiseman
decision held that the doctor
in that case owed a duty of care to "persons he knew or reasonably should
have known were relying on him for this service to his patient." Id
at 188. Furthermore, the court in Purdy v. Public Adm'r of County
, 72 N.Y.2d 1 (N.Y. 1988), noted that an appropriate
place to extend this duty is where a special relationship exists; i.e.,
between doctor and injured non-patient, or between patient and injured
non-patient. Thus, under certain circumstances, the court may find
that a doctor owes a duty of care to non-patients where there is no doctor/patient
Effect of Tenuto on Current Law
Furthering its opinion in Purdy
, the court clarifies the scope of
expansion of a physician's duty of care to include the patient's immediate
family. The significance of the Plaintiffs' role as the primary caretakers
of the infant-patient supports the imposition of this expanded duty. See
para. 14. Despite the absence of a direct doctor/patient relationship
between the physician and the Plaintiffs, the pediatrician knew, or should
have known, that his services to the patient necessarily involved the protection
of the health of Plaintiffs. See Tenuto
at para. 15. By reason of their family ties to the infant patient,
Plaintiffs were at a foreseeable risk and were relying on the physician's
exercise of due care. See Tenuto
at para. 15.
While the court holds that the physician owed a duty of care to Plaintiffs,
it declines to define the entire class of potential plaintiffs within the
scope of this duty. The court suggests that the physician owes a
duty to immediate family members or primary caretakers. Applying
this rule might be difficult when, as is often the case, an uncle or a
baby-sitter accompanies the child to the doctor's appointment. It
is unclear whether the physician has a duty to this accompanying adult.
Furthermore, if the doctor informs the accompanying adult, does he still
have a duty to inform the parents or the primary caretaker?
Other jurisdictions have defined this expanded physician's duty to include
warning of the infectious nature of the patient's disease. Is the
court's holding in Tenuto
limited to situations where the patient's treatment is potentially
dangerous to the primary caretakers, or is warning of infectious disease
implied in the court's holding?
Finally, the court left open the question as to whether this type of
duty would extend to situations where the patient is an adult.
Survey of the Law in Other Jurisdictions
Courts in many states, including California and Texas, extend a duty to
warn to protect third parties to whom foreseeable harm may occur as a result
of the risks involved with the medical treatment. Reisner v. Regents
of Univ. of Cal.
, 31 Cal. App. 4th 1195 (Cal. 1995) (husband of AIDS
patient sues doctor). Garcia v. Santa Rosa Health Care Corporation
925 S.W.2d 372 (Tex. App. 1996), writ granted
, 40 Tex. Sup. Ct.
J. 956 (Tex. 1997) (wife of a hemophiliac sued the hospital after her husband
contracted AIDS through blood products supplied by the hospital). In Garcia
the court held that the hospital owed a duty to warn to the wife. In support
of its decision, the court looked to Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of
, 17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1976) (holding that a therapist who believed
his patient posed a threat of violence to a foreseeable and readily identifiable
potential victim had a duty to warn the potential victim).
Other courts have required physicians to warn third parties of the infectious
nature of a patient's disease if either the patient or the doctor had a
special relationship with the third parties. In Hofmann v. Blackmon,
241 So. 2d 752 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1970), the physician had failed to
diagnose tuberculosis in the patient, who subsequently passed the disease
to his daughter. The court held that "once a contagious disease is
known to exist," the physician owes a duty to warn the patient-caretaker
of the dangers of his disease to his children. Id. at 753.
The court in Britton v. Soltes, 563 N.E.2d 910 (Ill. App. Ct.
1990), did not find an expansive duty of care. A physician was charged
with negligence when he failed to diagnose a man with tuberculosis, and
the man's ex-wife and children contracted the disease. Id. at 911.
The court stated that physicians had to warn the patient's family of risks
of the disease only where negligence by the physician would "necessarily
[result] in injury to the third party." Id. at 913. Such danger
did not exist in this case because the patient did not live with his family.
Micah A. Acoba, '99
Andrew F. Fowler, '98
Scott R. Goldsmith, '99
Benita Lee, '99
Mark A. Metcalf, '98
Karen E. Pawlick, '99
Jason A. Shrensky, '98