Healthcare Providers’ Liability Extended to Nonpatients

A decision of an appeals court in Utah extends medical malpractice liability of healthcare providers not just to the patient, but also the patient’s family. The decision reversed a decision of the trial court involving a case of murder where a husband, who was under medication, gunned down his wife.

Their children sued the healthcare provider after their father mentioned that he would have not done the crime had he not been under medication. The father was allegedly taking a cocktail of steroids, antidepressants and other medications.

The defendant health care providers, West, Rodier and Pioneer Comprehensive Medical Clinic, argued that the children cannot be party to the case because they are not the patients. However, this court decision declares that there is liability when their negligent prescriptions cause physical injury to nonpatients.

This decision has opened a debate among medical professionals and legal luminaries alike. One side says that if this decision is affirmed by the Utah Supreme Court, health care system would likely develop as health care providers will become more cautios about treating patients since their liability will not end with the patient but may extend to the damages or injuries caused to nonpatients as well. The other side, however, argues that this precedent will lead to more expensive health care system since the providers will have to add more stringent screening under a procedure of “defensive medicine.”

It may be true that a doctor-patient relationship is strictly personal. However, this fact does not take out the fact that health care providers, physicians, and pharmaceutical companies play a societal role. Social milieu can be dictated by development, may it be in technology or science.