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Massachusetts Appeals Court Discusses Duties Owed – and Not Owed – Directly to a Parent Whose Child is Being Treated by a Healthcare Professional

Being the victim of professional malpractice can be doubly difficult. First, there is the harm caused by a negligent Cape Cod doctor, nurse, or other provider. This alone can be substantial, expensive to rectify (if this is even possible), and life-altering.

Then, there is the emotional difficulty of accepting that someone you trusted to help you was actually the person or entity that caused the harm. The idea of confronting a careless medical professional in a court of law can be daunting, and, truth told, can even dissuade some would-be litigants from seeking compensation for what has happened to them.

However, this only serves to give the negligent provider a “free pass” to continue such conduct in the future, possibly leading to additional patient harm or even death. If you find yourself as the victim of medical malpractice, it is important to consult a Cape Cod medical malpractice attorney who can explain your legal rights, the process of filing a claim, and the procedure necessary in order to seek fair compensation for your injuries.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in a recently decided medical malpractice case were a minor child and her mother, who sought to recover for damages they alleged were caused by the medical malpractice and other wrongs of the defendant medical providers. At the time at issue, the child was 14 years old. In their complaint, the child stated claims for medical malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress; the mother asserted claims for negligence, intentional interference with custodial relations, and a derivative claim for loss of consortium. Only the child’s negligence claim and the mother’s loss of consortium claim were submitted to the jury, the other claims having been dismissed on summary judgment. The jury returned a defense verdict, and the mother appealed (the child did not seek appellate review).

The Decision Made by the Appeals Court

On appeal, the mother challenged both the dismissal of some of her claims on summary judgment and the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendants. The gravamen of her argument was that the defendants had breached duties “owed directly to her” in connection with their treatment of the minor child. In support of this argument, the mother maintained that the applicable standard of care for the psychiatric care rendered to the child included a duty to provide “family-driven treatment” and the facilitation of adequate contact between the mother and child. In ruling in the defendants’ favor at the summary judgment stage of the litigation, the trial court had ruled that the defendants did not owe any such duties to the plaintiff.

Although the appellate court agreed with the mother that the medical professionals did have certain obligations to a patient’s parent, including the obligation to confer regarding treatment and to obtain informed consent, the court rejected the mother’s contention that she was owed all of the duties that she had alleged in her complaint. The court began by acknowledging that, given the child’s age, the defendants owed most of their professional duties to her rather than to the mother. While the defendants did owe a duty to obtain informed consent regarding the child’s treatment, they were under no obligation to treat the mother, facilitate a relationship between the mother and the child, or provide the mother with reasonable aftercare. Accordingly, the reviewing tribunal affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment to the defendants on the mother’s direct negligence claim.

With regard to the mother’s derivative claim for loss of consortium, the court found no reason to disturb the jury’s verdict. Given the jury’s finding in favor of the defendants on the child’s medical negligence claim, the mother’s derivative claim necessarily failed as well.

Talk to a Medical Malpractice Attorney

When a Cape Cod physician, psychiatrist, or hospital fails to properly treat a patient’s condition and, thereby, causes injury to the patient, the medical provider(s) can be held liable in a court of law. Proving negligence against a medical professional requires much work, however, including researching and hiring reliable expert witnesses to review the patient’s medical file and testify, should the matter proceed to trial. If you suspect that your hospital or health care practitioner has made a mistake that has caused you injury (or resulted in death to a loved one), call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664 for a free case review.

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