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Successful malpractice claim against doctor who had affair with patient

This blog previously commented on a pending medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor in Long Island, New York. The claim stated that the doctor committed malpractice by having an affair with a patient. The doctor was treating the patient for anxiety and depressions.

Doctor negligence comes in many forms, but this case presents a unique angle. The New York Court of Appeals recently released its opinion on the matter. The court found that it was malpractice for the doctor to have an affair with the patient, who was married at the time, but also found that she shared some of the fault since she sought subsequent sexual encounters. The affair lasted less than a year. The woman's husband filed for divorce after she told him of the infidelity.

The jury upheld a monetary award of almost $340,000 to the woman in damages. However, the damages will be reduced by one-fourth, the amount which the jury found her at fault. The jury also took away a substantial amount in punitive damages after they determined that the doctor did not act maliciously. This leaves the total award to the woman at $250,000.

The original lawsuit was filed in 2005. It was argued that the woman's romantic feelings stemmed from her shifting emotions onto her doctor and that the doctor exploited those feelings. The opposing attorney claimed that the affair was consensual and that the woman initially sought treatment for a gastrointestinal condition.

The court disagreed with the doctor and stated that the patient sought treatment for mental health issues and thus concluded that a relationship of a sexual nature would interfere with this treatment and be considered malpractice.

Doctors have a responsibility to uphold a certain standard of care no matter the type of treatment that is sought. Deviating from that standard of care and potentially exploiting a patient's weaknesses may be the basis for a medical malpractice case. An injured patient may be able to recover damages, such as the woman in this case did.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "NY court says affair is medical malpractice," Nov. 29, 2012

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