When you get your wisdom teeth pulled, undergo surgery, or get your eyes dilated by an ophthalmologist, you should be driven home by someone you trust. After undergoing such procedures, your driving will be impaired and getting behind the wheel will put yourself and others in danger. Your doctor must warn you of the side effects of medication, especially if it will have an effect on your driving. If they fail to do so and you are involved in an accident, they may be liable to provide compensation. The people you injure with your car may also want to hold the doctor accountable for their lack of action. However, whether they are able to do so is highly disputed in the court system.
To help explain the concept, here’s an example: Mike decides to take a trip to the gas station; maybe he needs gas, or maybe he’s feeling lucky and decides to buy a lotto ticket. Because he lives in Malone, there are more than enough gas stations to choose from, but he decides to go to Stewart’s and makes his purchase. While he’s walking out of the store, a car hurtles across the parking lot and strikes him. The car is driven by an elderly man who is recovering from an eye dilation. The elderly man’s doctor did not tell him how long the dilation was meant to last. Mike survives the accident but suffers serious injuries from it. Should the eye doctor be liable for Mike’s injury?
This example is actually very similar to an actual event in the case, Purdy v. The Public Administration of Westchester County. A good summary of the case and its significance is outlined by Thomas A. Moore Matthew Gaier in a recent article they wrote for the New York Law Journal. In that case, a man was struck by a vehicle driven by a 75-year old woman who blacked out behind the wheel. The woman lived at a nursing home and experienced frequent blackouts. The injured man, Purdy, took legal action against the nursing home for allowing the woman to drive.
Now, the only difference between the example involving ‘Mike’, above and the actual court case was that the fictitious Mike in the example was that he was hit by someone who was given eye drops by his doctor. Eye drops are a form of medication. By contrast, the woman in Purdy v. The Public Administration of Westchester County was not given any medication by the nursing home where she lived. That single difference may seem small, but it has a significant impact in the eyes of the court.
In the court case discussed above, the elderly woman was under the care of medical professionals because she lived in a nursing home. This means that the nursing home owed a duty to elderly woman through an established relationship. Purdy was a third party to that relationship. The question proposed by the Court was wheher the medical professionals at the nursing home owed a duty to Purdy even though he had no direct relationship with them. The Court also questioned whether the nursing home had control over the woman’s ability to drive.
The Court found that the nursing home did not owe a …..duty of care to the public and did not have significant authority over the woman’s ability to operate a vehicle. It was also found that the medical care professionals did not owe a duty to warn the woman of the dangers involved in driving for the benefit of the public. These decisions were made largely because the medical care professionals did not administer any medication to the woman. Because she was not given medication, there were no side effects of which she could be warned. In the process of resolving this court case, it was made clear that doctors and other medical personnel may be held accountable by injured third parties if the use of medication is involved.
Purdy’s case occurred in 1988 and since that time, other cases have surfaced that have clarified the Court’s position on this issue a little more. In Davis v. South Nassau Community Hospital, the Court made the following statement. “Where a medical provider has administered to a patient medication that impairs or could impair the patient’s ability to safely operate an automobile, the medical provider has a duty to third parties to warn patient of that danger.” This means that if a doctor gives their patient medication that could have side-effects that would cause the patient to drive in a dangerous fashion, the doctor is to clearly indicate those side effects to the patient and explain that it can affect their driving.
The side effects of a medication that can effect one’s driving include; sedation, weakness, dizziness, unsteadiness, and disorientation. Patients who feel any of these symptoms should not get behind the wheel as it will put them at risk as well as others.
In addition, the Court has also considered third party relationships in a different light. In Davis v. South Nassau Community Hospital, the Court concluded that it must be considered in each case as to whether the medical provider is in the best position to prevent harm given their relationship to the patient and third party. If the medical provider is in the best position to prevent harm by warning a medicated patient about the dangers of driving, they may be held liable if a third party becomes injured. This is because the medical professional was the one who made the decision to administer the medication to the patient.
Vehicles are powerful machines that can cause horrible damage to people and property when they are not operated correctly. If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident with an individual taking medication, you may be able to receive compensation for your injuries. If you have any questions about third party relationships in automobile accidents, contact Poissant, Nichols, Grue, and Vanier at:
367 West Main Street 45 Market Street
Malone, New York 12953 Potsdam, New York 13676
Phone: (518) 483-1440
Toll Free: 1-800-924-3529