HARTFORD, Conn. (Legal Newsline) - The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled last month that a third-party plaintiff cannot sue a doctor who failed to advise his patient of the driving risks associated with her medical condition.
The plaintiff, John Jarmie, appealed from the judgment of a trial court in favor of defendants Frank Troncale, a physician and gastroenterology specialist, and Gasteroenterology Center of
Connecticut PC, Troncale's employer.
Troncale diagnosed and treated patient Mary Ann Ambrogio for various liver and kidney ailments, including hepatic encephalopathy, which is a worsening of brain function that occurs when the liver is no longer able to remove toxic substances in the blood.
After leaving the physician's office one day, Ambrogio blacked out while driving and struck pedestrian Jarmie.
Troncale failed to warn Ambrogio of the latent driving impairment associated with her condition. Jarmie sued.
A trial court granted the defendants' motion to strike his complaint.
On appeal, Jarmie claimed that the court, in doing so, improperly ruled that a third party is categorically barred from bringing an action against a physician for professional negligence and that Troncale owed no duty to the plaintiff to warn Ambrogio of the driving risks associated with her condition.
The defendants, meanwhile, argued that the trial court properly ruled that Troncale owed no such duty to Jarmie.
They argued, alternatively, that Jarmie failed to plead the requisite "causal connection" between Troncale's alleged deviation from the standard of care and his claimed injury.
Justice Peter T. Zarella, who authored the Court's Sept. 17 opinion, explained that Jarmie's complaint is "legally insufficient" because it contains no allegations that he and Troncale had a physician-patient relationship as required under the state's medical malpractice law.
And as to whether Jarmie was owed the duty to inform, the Court also sided with the defendants.
"We conclude as a matter of law that Troncale owed no duty to the plaintiff in this case because Connecticut precedent does not support it, the plaintiff was an unidentifiable victim, public policy considerations counsel against it, and there is no consensus among courts in other jurisdictions, which have considered the issue only rarely," Zarella wrote.
The Court explained that the proposed duty would result in increased litigation because it would "open the door" to an entirely new category of claims against health care providers.
It also would create an additional burden on the courts, it said.
"This would have the effect of driving up health care costs because the additional expenses incurred in defending against lawsuits very likely would be passed on to patients," Zarella wrote.
In addition, health care providers would be forced to spend valuable time away from their patients so they could respond to interrogatories, attend depositions and testify at trial, the Court said.
"Litigiously inclined victims of motor vehicle accidents also could use their newly granted power to conduct time-consuming fishing expeditions for the purpose of discovering medical information that could be used in bringing claims against health care providers to supplement the coverage provided under their own insurance policies," Zarella wrote.
"The prospect of increased litigation and its attendant costs in terms of time and money thus militates against expanding the duty of health care providers in the present circumstances."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.