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Ricks v. Budge

    Brief Fact Summary. Dr. Budge (Defendant) stopped treating Ricks (Plaintiff) because of lack of payment.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A doctor may not completely stop treating a patient due to lack of payment.

    Facts. From March 11 to March 15 [the year was not stated] Ricks (Plaintiff) was treated by Dr. Budge (Defendant) for an infected hand.  Plaintiff was released on March 15.  On March 17, Plaintiff again went to Dr. D.C. Budge, (Defendant) with symptoms and Dr. D.C. Budge (Defendant) sent him to a hospital, where S.M. Budge (Defendant) was on staff.  Dr. S.M. Budge (Defendant) would not treat Plaintiff as his account was overdue.  Plaintiff went to another facility and was treated.  Eventually, part of his hand had to be amputated.  Plaintiff sued the Budges (Defendants) for malpractice.  The trial court found in favor of the Budges (Defendants).  Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue. May a doctor completely stop treating a patient due to lack of payment?

    Held. (Hanson, J.)  No.  A doctor may not completely stop treating a patient due to lack of payment.  When a doctor begins treating a patient, he must continue to care for the patient until the care is no longer required.  A doctor may withdraw from a patient, but he must give the patient sufficient notice so he may find alternate care.  In this case, there was enough evidence to go to a jury regarding whether the Budges (Defendants) had continued their care of Plaintiff and then stopped providing services without giving him enough time to seek alternate care.  Reversed.

    Dissent. (Folland, J.)  There was evidence that the Budges (Defendants) abandoned Ricks (Plaintiff), but not enough evidence for a jury to find that Plaintiff was consequently damaged.

    Discussion. Many states have ethical or legal rules regarding the duty of doctors to care for those who are unable to pay for services.  The nature of the duty and its source varies.  These rules clash with economic reality and are usually more notable as an aspiration rather than a practice.


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