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Friday, October 21, 2011

Third-party cases pose liability risks to doctors

By Alicia Gallgos
amdnews.com staff

The Utah Supreme Court is reviewing whether the children of a patient can sue their father's physician for medication mismanagement after the patient shot his wife to death. In a similar case, the Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled that a psychiatrist can be sued for medication negligence after a patient fatally attacked his mother.

The cases raise concerns about doctors' potential liability for criminal actions committed by their patients and what duty, if any, physicians owe to nonpatients. Experts say the cases remind doctors to take note of circumstances that could increase their liability risk to third parties.

In the Georgia case, the father of Victor Bruscato filed a lawsuit on behalf of Victor against psychiatrist Derek O'Brien, MD. He alleged that the doctor's discontinuation of Bruscato's two antipsychotic medications aggravated his son's violent tendencies. After the drugs were stopped, Bruscato, a mentally ill patient with a history of violence, stabbed his mother to death.

Dr. O'Brien had ordered two of Bruscato's medications stopped for six weeks to rule out the possibility that Bruscato was developing neuroleptic malignancy syndrome, according to court documents. A trial court dismissed the case in favor of Dr. O'Brien, ruling that public policy does not allow the Bruscatos to benefit from any wrongdoing, namely the killing of Lillian Bruscato. The appeals court reversed the decision.

In its Sept. 12 opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed, allowing the lawsuit to proceed. Though public policy prevents profiting from a wrongdoing in court, an exception exists if a mentally ill patient isn't aware of what he is doing, the court said. Bruscato was never found guilty of a crime; instead, he was ruled incompetent to stand trial and committed to a state mental hospital.

The rest of the story can be found here.

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