One of the fundamentals of negligence law, which applies in personal injury litigation such as medical malpractice cases, is the requirement that the defendant in the case owed a legal duty to the plaintiff.
Sometimes, the duty is obvious, such as in car accident cases in which drivers owe one another a duty to exercise due care when operating a vehicle. In such cases, the dispute usually centers on whether the duty was breached and, if so, what compensation is due to the plaintiff.
There are some cases, however, in which the issue of duty is a more complicated question. Recently, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was asked to decide whether a Massachusetts hospital had a duty to patients of a doctor who left its employment and moved to another state.
The Facts of the Case
According to the plaintiffs in Roe v. Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the defendant hospital hired a certain pediatric physician in 1966. After leaving the defendant’s employment in 1985, the doctor relocated from Massachusetts to North Carolina. In 2009, he surrendered his medical license after it was alleged that he had performed genital examinations on several patients in North Carolina when such exams were not medically necessary.
The plaintiffs, 11 former patients of the doctor in North Carolina, filed suit against the Massachusetts hospital that once employed him, alleging that the hospital failed to properly train, supervise, and discipline the doctor during his Massachusetts employment, that it knew or should have known that he was performing genital examinations on minors in an inappropriate manner during that employment, and that it failed to report his conduct to the appropriate licensing authorities and to his North Carolina employer.
In particular, the plaintiffs pointed to an incident in 1967 in which a mother reported that the doctor had inappropriately examined her son and to several lawsuits against the doctor following his departure from the defendant hospital. According to the plaintiffs, as a result of the defendant’s negligence, the doctor was able to continue his abuse of patients, including the plaintiffs, after moving his practice to North Carolina.
What the Court Decided
The trial judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint, saying that public policy did not support imposition of a duty that would expose an employer to liability for future potential abuse on unknown persons by a former employee outside the state. On appeal, the court affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that the defendant hospital did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs because the hospital did not have any type of “special relationship” with the doctor or his prospective patients.
Although the defendant did have a legally cognizable duty to prevent harm to its own minor patients, that duty did not require it to protect potential future plaintiffs in other states.
What to Do if You Think You Have a Case Against a Medical Professional
The Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, handles a wide variety of negligence lawsuits, including pharmaceutical and medical malpractice cases. To schedule an appointment to discuss your case with one of our experienced legal professionals, phone us at (888) 262-6664, or use the online contact form on this website. We are currently accepting clients in the Plymouth, Hyannis, and greater Cape Cod areas.
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