In 2011, New York Presbyterian Hospital anesthesiology resident, Dr. Janet Christophel, committed suicide via an intravenously used drug called Propofol. Propofol’s uses extend from inducing and maintaining general anesthesia to, among other things, procedural sedation. It is highly addictive and known to be a drug of choice to those working in and around operating rooms.
Before Dr. Chrisopthel’s suicide, she participated in a six-week drug rehabilitation program for her substance abuse issue. After finishing the program, Dr. Christophel was allowed to return to work, which provided her with ample exposure to Propofal, at this point in time a known cause of concern for the hospital. Having just been released from rehabilitation a mere two months prior, it may not have come as a surprise that Dr. Christophel made the decision to resign after being admitted back to work at New York Presbyterian. What did come as a surprise, however, was her suicide the very next day following her announcing her intention to resign.
New York Presbyterian was sued by Dr. Christophel’s estate for hospital negligence. Hospital negligence occurs when a hospital does not take necessary reasonable care so as to prevent injury patients, or its own staff. Common claims regarding hospital negligence often include things such as substandard care, unclean facilities, exposure to hazards, and tainted instruments. It appears the estate of Dr. Christophel based its argument of hospital negligence on the hospital allowing her to return to work and putting her in a position of having to sign a waiver form that would release New York Presbyterian from “any causes of action of any nature whatsoever.”
The New York Supreme Court concluded the case should be dismissed. In reaching its decision, the court relied heavily upon the aforementioned waiver Dr. Christophel signed upon her return to work. Furthermore, Dr. Christophel had agreed in the form to remain in treatment, forgo any further substance abuse, and participate in drug testing if deemed necessary by the hospital.
The court rejected counterarguments pertaining to the authenticity of the deceased’s signature on the waiver and arguments regarding the document not being signed by any hospital administrative staff. Justice Schlesinger found that because the waiver had been created by the hospital, and the provisions within it were made with the intent to protect the hospital, none of the hospital administrative staff were required to sign the document. Justice Schlesinger went on, ruling Dr. Christophel’s intellect, and her opportunity to rejoin the anesthesiology program negated any potential for Dr. Christophel not understanding what she was signing. This also in no way, shape or form could have made Dr. Christophel feel obligated to sign. Finally, the Court rejected arguments that the waiver was ambiguous and held that a decision not to hold New York Presbyterian liable would not go against public policy, as it was in the best interests of Dr. Christophel to have signed the waiver in question.
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