Court Expands Medical Providers’ Liability to Third Parties

A decision last month from New York’s Court of Appeals should be of considerable concern to hospitals, physicians, and any other providers of health care services that prescribe or administer sedatives or pain-killing substances to their patients. In Davis v. South Nassau Communities Hospital,1 the court broke with decades of its own jurisprudence and held that a hospital, physician, and physician assistant who failed to warn a patient about prescribed medication that could impair her ability to drive a car could be held liable to a third party injured as a result of the patient’s impairment.

Background

Lorraine A. Walsh was treated in the emergency room at Long Island’s South Nassau Communities Hospital by a physician and physician assistant employed by Island Medical Physicians, P.C. (Island Medical), a hospital contractor. As part of the treatment, Walsh was intravenously administered an opioid narcotic painkiller and a benzodiazepine drug (a sedative) without being warned that the medication impaired or could impair her ability to drive safely.

Shortly after leaving the hospital, the automobile that Walsh was driving crossed a double yellow line and struck a vehicle driven by Edward Davis, who was injured in the accident. Davis and his wife sued the hospital, the physician and physician assistant, and Island Medical for damages, asserting causes of action for medical malpractice, and negligent hiring and training of the medical personnel involved. (The patient, Walsh, filed a separate lawsuit against the hospital and the medical professionals.)

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