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New York case questions whether an affair counts as medical malpractice

Medical malpractice as we know it happens when a medical professional acts in a negligent manner and the negligence causes harm to a patient. Common instances of negligence include mistakes during treatment or surgery or failure to diagnose an illness. An injured patient may be able to recover damages in a medical malpractice claim against a doctor if the doctor strayed from the accepted standards of care and this deviation caused the injury. But just what is the extent of medical malpractice?

The New York Court of Appeals will soon consider this question in the case against a Long Island family doctor. The doctor apparently had an affair with a patient who then ended up getting divorced.

The jury in a lower court decision granted the female patient nearly half a million dollars in the case. The jury found the doctor three-fourths responsible for the patient's economic loss in the divorce and her mental distress.

The patient originally sought treatment from the doctor for gastrointestinal issues. The doctor also treated her for depression and panic attacks. Eighteen months after seeking help, the affair began.

A midlevel court in New York also heard the case on appeal and ruled 3-1 that the damage incurred was related to her treatment. The lone dissenter felt that the consensual relationship was not related to the treatment.

Oral arguments will soon begin in this unusual case. Although it is not often that medical malpractice claims stem from a resulting divorce, the court must consider whether the doctor deviated from the generally accepted standards of care by engaging in an affair during treatment.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "NY court weighs affair as medical malpractice," Oct. 17, 2012

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