The New York Court of Appeals is the highest court in the state of New York. Recently, it heard a medical malpractice case that could be very significant for the field. This case involves a doctor who had a consensual affair with a patient. The doctor had been treating the patient for a gastrointestinal condition, for eighteen months prior to the start of the affair. After the affair, which lasted for nine months, ended, the woman and her husband divorced.
The woman sued the doctor after the divorce for medical malpractice and a jury found that the doctor was liable for 75% of her mental distress and economic losses. Additionally, the jury found $166,000 in punitive damages against the doctor. The total jury award was for $416,500. The Appellate Division upheld the jury award in a three to one decision.
The doctor’s attorneys argued to the Court of Appeals, that the relationship was inappropriate and unethical, however, that it is not medical malpractice. They argued that in order for the doctor’s actions be medical malpractice they would have to be related to the woman’s medical treatment, and that the affair was separate from the woman’s treatment. The attorney’s argued that at no time did the doctor think that the ongoing affair was related to the woman’s treatment.
The woman’s attorney acknowledged that his client had pursued the affair outside of the doctor’s office; however, the attorney argued that the woman was vulnerable and the doctor took advantage of that vulnerability. The attorney argued that the doctor was giving the woman advice and medication for psychological issues, such as depression and panic attacks, which were debilitating.
This is a very interesting case and we will track what happens with the court’s decision, which is expected to be released sometime in November. Depending on which way the court goes, the decision good have a great impact of the field of medical malpractice and whether a violation of ethical obligations is considered malpractice.
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