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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules that Doctor Can Be Liable if Patient Causes Motor Vehicle Accidents

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling earlier this week that says a doctor can be sued for personal injury if his patient caused a deadly car accident.

The case before the SJC involved a mother who wants to sue a doctor because he allegedly did not warn his patient that taking his medication could cause him to become a dangerous driver. The doctor, Dr. Roland Floria, practices medicine in Brockton, Massachusetts.

On March 22, 2002, Floria’s patient, David Sacca, 75, passed out while driving his car. His vehicle swerved off the road and struck Kevin Coombes, 10, who was standing on the sidewalk. Coombes died of his injuries from the accident. Dr. Floria had prescribed oxycodone, prednisone, Zaroxolyn, Paxil, potassium, furosemide, oxazepam, and Flomax to Sacca. Side effects of these drugs can include fainting, drowsiness, and dizziness.

In the court’s lead opinion, Justice Roderick L. Ireland compared Dr. Floria’s failure to warn Sacca about his medications’ side effects to a bartender giving a drunken customer a drink. He said that the physician’s duty of care includes “all those foreseeably put at risk by his failure to warn about the effects of the treatment he provides to his patients.”

This is the first time that Massachusetts’s SJC has issued such a ruling. Two earlier state Superior Court rulings had held doctors liable when their patients struck a pedestrian and biker. The ruling by the SJC, however, could make it easier for similar lawsuits holding doctors accountable for their patients’ actions to follow.

Dr. Dale Magee, the head of the Massachusetts Medical Society that represents the majority of Massachusetts’s doctors says that the ruling “may do more harm than good.” Magee noted that doctors should warn patients of possible medicinal side effects. He expressed concern, however, that informing a patient of every possible scenario could stop them from taking their medication.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling paves the way for a wrongful death trial to determine whether Floria is liable for the boy’s death. Prior to this ruling, a doctor’s liability regarding failure to warn ended with the patient. Now, a physician’s liability could extend to “foreseeable” third parties and nonpatients.

If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident, truck crash, bicycle collision, or pedestrian accident anywhere in Massachusetts, you should contact a personal injury lawyer immediately.

Mass. Supreme Court Expands Doctors’ Liability to Nonpatients, Insurance Journal, December 11, 2007
SJC ruling adds to doctor liability, Boston.com, December 11, 2007

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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

The personal injury law firm of Altman & Altman LLP can determine whether you have grounds to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the driver, the manufacturer of the motor vehicle, the doctor of the driver, or anyone else whose negligence may have lead to the personal injury or wrongful death. Our Massachusetts motor vehicle accident lawyers are here to help you. Contact Altman & Altman LLP today and ask for your free case evaluation.