Does a physician owe a duty of care to the children of a patient

Case Brief: Patel v. Threlkel 

Facts

The petitioner, Heidi Pate, challenged the decision of the court to dismiss her claims of negligence against the respondent, health care providers. The respondent had previously treated the petitioner’s mother for a genetically transferable disorder but did not inform the patient of the likelihood to transfer the disease to her children. Upon filing a case, the trial court dismissed with prejudice the complaints from the Pates on the basis that there is no professional connection between the respondent and the petitioner. The trial court stated that the absence of privity barred the petitioner from establishing the cause of action. On the other end, the district court did not find a special relationship between the two parties. It stated that the defendant’s actions did not develop a foreseeable zone of risk, thereforeaffirming the trial court’s dismissal. As a result, the court turned back to review the question whether health care providers “owes a duty of care to the children of a patient to warn the patient of the geneticallytransferable nature of the condition for which the physician istreating the patient.”Also, the Supreme Court of Florida determined that to settle the case, they will have to answer the question on to whom does the alleged responsibility to warn the petitioner’s mother of the essence of her disease run. The Florida Supreme Court answered the question affirmatively on the appeal.

Rule

When the prevailing standard of care creates a duty that is obviously for the benefit of certain identified third parties, then the physician’s duty runs to those third parties.

Issue

Does a physician owe a duty of care to the children of a patient to warn the patient of the genetically transferable nature of the condition for which the physician is treating the patient?

Holding

Yes. There wasa development of a standard of care for the benefit of the patient. The care must also extend to her children. As a result, it was a duty of the health care providers to care for New and extend the responsibilities to her children, including the petitioner.

Disposition

Based on the Baskerville – Donovan Engineers, the court decided that the privity does not prohibit the petitioner from pursuing an action of medical malpractice. Also, the court identified that the children of the patient fall in the category of foreseeable risk based on McCain v. Florida power. As a result, the Supreme Court quashed the initial decision of the district court, whichaffirmed the trial courts’ dismissal of the complaint by prejudice.

Reasons and Policies

The court proceeds, and a review of the laws indicate that the respondent had an obligation to inform or warn his patient concerning the risk of transferring the genetic disorder to her children. Therefore, the legal duty of a physician required the respondent to inform New about the necessity of testing her children for medullary thyroid carcinoma.Also, the court concluded thatwhen the prevailing standard care establishes the duty which is beneficial toother identified third parties, then the physician’s responsibilities of care extend to them too. The medical experts knew about the existence of the New’s daughter, therefore their current standard care to New covers and spread to her daughter.

However, the court made it clear that the extension of duty does not require the health care providers to seek out and warn the family members and any other identifiable third partiesto their patients. It is difficult to achieve, impractical to conduct, and would only increase the burden to the physicians. Also, the law regarding the patient and physician confidentiality bars the health care providers from sharing health information with other parties without the consent of the patient. Instead, the health care providers are expected to educate the patients about the familial risk of the condition, andthe latter should, in turn, pass the message to the necessary third parties (Storm et al., 2008).

The law also holds that for one to keep a cause of action against a health care provider, privity, or treatment relationship must exist between the petitioner and the physician. It implies that there should be a professional relationship between a plaintiff and a physician to facilitate the statement of a cause of action. The absence of privity between the two indicated that the petitioner has failed to show if the respondent owed her a duty of care. However, for this case, the Supreme Court concluded that privity is not necessary for the establishment of liability. Therefore, health care providers have a professional relationship with the children of the patient.The physicians have to warn for genetic risks, whether a professional connection exists between them and the patient’s relatives or not (Schleiter 2009). As a result of that, the Supreme Court reversed the initial dismissal with prejudice of the petitioner’s claim for negligence. The decision led to remand for further proceedings. 

References

Schleiter, K.E. (2009). A physician’s duty to warn third parties of genetic risk. AMA Journal

of Ethics.https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/physicians-duty-warn-third-parties-hereditary-risk/2009-09

Storm, C., Agarwal, R., & Offit, K. (2008). Ethical and legal implications of cancer genetic

testing: Do physicians have a duty to warn patients relatives about possible genetic risks? American Society of Clinical Oncology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2794026/

https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3577927273087000302&q=Pate+v.+threlkel&hl=en&as_sdt=6,31

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