Possible Doctor Liability For Premature Discharge Of Patient

In a recent Pennsylvania Common Pleas case, a Judge ruled that if a jury so decides, a doctor may potentially be found to be liable for his patient’s injuries – a patient who was injured in a car accident after leaving his office an hour after passing out during an examination. Apparently, the patient who became a plaintiff due to his automobile accident injuries was enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program where he was receiving regular medical help including methadone treatment. Although the patient passed out during his treatment, the doctor felt he was okay to drive his motor vehicle from the office only an hour later.

Summary Judgment Motion

The judge was asked to make a ruling on what is called a Summary Judgment Motion. This is a Motion where the defendant attempts to stop the case from being decided that by a jury, and instead requests that the judge throw the case out. The Judge ruled however, that there was enough of a factual dispute to require that it be heard before a jury who would be in the best position to determine the accuracy and credibility of the witnesses’ testimony.

This case is very similar to other medical provider and doctor liability cases where they are charged with making certain decisions or implementing restrictions depending on the patient’s condition and circumstance. For example, if a psychiatrist recognizes that a patient is acutely suicidal or homicidal and lets that patient leave his or her office without doing anything more, he or she could possibly be held responsible for injuries caused by the patient.

Liquor Dram Shop Cases

This is also somewhat akin to what we call the Liquor Dram Shop cases where a bartender serves a person alcohol who he or she sees is visibly intoxicated. The bartender could arguably be held liable for serving that person more alcohol and then permitting the intoxicated patron to drive away from the premises causing an accident. It is also similar to a case where someone gives the car keys to a person who he or she knew was too intoxicated to drive.

This is why the judge decided that the methadone case was to be heard by a jury so that it could hear both sides of the issue; learn all the relevant facts and then determine if the doctor was negligent.

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