The New York Court of Appeals recently ruled that a doctor who had a nine month affair with a married patient committed medical malpractice. In this case, Dupree v. Giugliano, the doctor was treating the patient, Dupree, for anxiety and depression. The doctor prescribed Dupree anti-depressants in addition to suggesting that she exercise more and take warm baths to relieve stress. The adulterous affair began when the defendant was showing the patient some exercises meant to alleviate stress and anxiety.
The court ruled that the doctor was not the only one at fault in this case. Since both the plaintiff and the defendant sought repeated sexual encounters, they shared fault. The jury awarded damages of $338,000 of which twenty-five percent of fault was attributed to the patient (thereby reducing the award to just over $250,000). The award for punitive damages was vacated because there was no malicious intent by the doctor. The doctor however did breach his professional duty.
The patient’s lawyer argued that her romantic feelings were a result of the patient’s shifting emotions toward her therapist. However the doctor’s lawyer countered by arguing that the affair was consensual and unrelated to treatment. The court ruled that since the doctor was prescribing treatment for mental health problems, which included medication and counseling that it was reasonable for a jury to conclude that the sexual relationship was related to and may have interfered with treatment, and that this would constitute medical malpractice. This, however, does not negate comparative fault since the affair continued for nine months.
Given the length of the affair and the impact it had in determining whether Dupree shared fault, it may be the case that if the affair had not lasted for such a length of time, the plaintiff would not have been found to share fault. A doctor who has an affair with a patient under similar circumstances but for a shorter period of time may be found entirely at fault for medical malpractice. Additionally, had the affair continued on for longer, the court may have found that it had little if nothing to do with treatment and the doctor may not have been found to have committed medical malpractice.
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