Feldman, Kronfeld & Beatty Law Blog

Monday, January 4, 2016

Court of Appeals Alert: Hospitals & Doctors Can Be Responsible for Motor Vehicle Accidents Caused by their Patients

When a loved one is hurt or killed in a motor vehicle collision, a common and reasonable step to take is to explore options for possible claims. Since hospital bills, reduced income, and sometimes, sadly, funeral expenses, put great hardships on friends and family, those who have been victimized by negligent drivers or others look to find balance. New York Courts, including the New York Court of Appeals, function as a gatekeeper to whom may be held responsible for a loved one’s injury. And often, they can help us understand the complexities of these injuries in modern day life. The case of Edwin Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital, recently decided by the New York Court of Appeals, is a signal case to this cause.

On March 4, 2009, Lorraine Walsh was in the emergency room of South Nassau Community Hospital. She got injections of two drugs: Dilaudid, an opioid narcotic painkiller, and Ativan, otherwise known as lorazepam, a benzodiazepine drug, at 11 AM. At 12:30, she was discharged from the hospital and began to drive herself home. Nineteen minutes later, after crossing the double yellow line, she struck the vehicle belonging to Edwin Davis, who started a lawsuit for personal injuries that came from the auto accident. Mr. Davis sued the hospital and doctors for administering the drugs, which seriously impair the ability to drive, to Ms. Walsh and then not warning her about the effects of those drugs.

New York Court of Appeals wrote, in allowing the case to progress: “our calculus is such that we assigned the responsibility of care to the person or entity that can most effectively fulfill that obligation at the lowest cost.” Generally, doctors do not have a duty to protect the public at large from their patients. However, in cases where there is a special relationship that justify the extension of a duty, such as the duty to warn immediate family members of a polio vaccinated-infant that they, too, can catch the polio virus, and that group to warn is distinct and identifiable, the duty can be extended. On the facts of the Davis case, the hospital’s relationship with Ms. Walsh placed them in the best position to protect against the risk of harm to Mr. Davis, and the balancing of factors such as the expectations of Mr. Davis, Ms. Walsh, and the hospital, the proliferation of lawsuits, and public policies tilts in favor of making the hospital responsible for warning Ms. Walsh.

The Court concluded that the administration of medicine to Ms. Walsh created a peril affecting every motorist in Walsh’s vicinity. The hospital was the only one who could have provided a proper warning of the effects of that medication. This is why this case differs from another case in New York jurisprudence, where a nursing home resident accidentally struck another vehicle. Testimony revealed that the nursing home resident was prone to fainting spells and blackouts, and so the victim attempted to sue the admitting doctor at the nursing home for allowing her to leave the facility. But the Court found that because the doctor could not control the nursing home resident, the only person who was responsible for her behavior was the nursing home resident, not the doctor. In this case, Mr. Davis is not complaining that the hospital prevented Ms. Walsh from leaving, but that they failed to advise her about the effects of the drugs.

If you, or a loved one, has been hurt by someone who has recently visited a hospital or doctor, you may have a claim against the doctor and/or hospital. The medical malpractice attorneys at Feldman, Kronfeld & Beatty are available at (212) 425-0230 or at for a free consultation.

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