On Remand: Suzanne Donnelly, Acknowledging Foreseeable Consequences

Who bears the risk of injury when the driver of a vehicle suffering from a known seizure disorder gets into a collision: the driver who was unable to control the car, the injured third party, or the doctor who knew of the seizures but never warned the patient of the inherent risks? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) answered all of these questions in its recent decision, Medina v. Hochberg. There, the Court held that a physician owes no duty to a nonpatient third party to warn his patient not to drive due to risks associated with the patient’s health condition. Medina clarified the prior confusion among Massachusetts courts regarding the duty imposed on a physician to unrelated third parties and narrowed the scope of the Court’s earlier holding in Coombes v. Florio, which established a physician’s duty to nonpatient third parties when the physician has prescribed medication to the patient. Policy, rather than precedent, ultimately fueled the SJC’s decision-making process and led to the case’s outcome. The SJC was correct in its conclusion in Medina, but the Court should have utilized a more equitable method in ascertaining whether a physician should have a duty to a nonpatient third party, so plaintiffs with meritorious claims will not be automatically foreclosed from pursuing them. This Comment argues that although the SJC was correct in its holding, it should have employed a more flexible method evaluating the foreseeability of the harm to the injured party in determining the existence of a duty rather than precluding all plaintiffs in similar circumstances from engaging in a lawsuit.

Read more from the most recent On Remand article, a Comment by New England Law Review editor Suzanne Donnelly entitled Acknowledging Foreseeable Consequences: Medina v. Hochberg and Limiting Physicians’ Duties to Nonpatients here.

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