Brief Fact Summary.
Bradshaw commenced a negligence suit against Dr. Daniel after both his parents died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever under Dr. Daniel’s care.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A physician has a legal duty to warn family members and others who are at risk of exposure of a disease contracted by a patient that the physician is treating.
The existence of a duty is a question of law for the court which requires consideration of whether such a relation exists between the parties that the community will impose a legal obligation upon one for the benefit of others--or, more simply, whether the interest of the plaintiff which has suffered invasion was entitled to legal protection at the hands of the defendant.View Full Point of Law
Johns was admitted to the hospital under the care of Dr. Daniel who gave Johns medication for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), created by exposure to ticks. Johns died the next day and Dr. Daniel failed to warn Johns’ wife of the risks associated with exposure to RMSF or that her husband died because of exposure to RMSF. Johns’ wife died of RMSF three days later, and her son, Bradshaw, filed a negligence suit against Dr. Daniel. The trial court granted an interlocutory appeal regarding the issue of whether a duty to warn exists when a disease is non-contagious. The appellate court granted judgment to Dr. Daniel.
Whether a physician has a legal duty to warn family members and others who are at risk of exposure of a disease contracted by a patient that the physician is treating?
Yes. The judgment of the appellate court is reversed. Dr. Daniel had an affirmative obligation to warn Johns’ wife of her risk of contracting RMSF and that Johns suffered, and died, from RMSF.
A physician has a legal duty to warn family members and others who are at risk of exposure of a disease contracted by a patient that the physician is treating. Although there is not usually a duty to warn a person who is in danger of another’s conduct, a physician-patient relationship creates a legal duty to warn. A physician-patient relationship creates a duty to act so that the patient does not suffer harm. A physician therefore has an affirmative obligation to warn third parties of risks associated with a patient’s illness.