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Court Holds Continuing to Treat Despite Cognitive Decline May Constitute Medical Malpractice in New York Case

Negligent medical care is not limited to missed diagnoses or negligently performed surgeries but can present in a variety of ways. At the heart of each medical malpractice claim, however, is the allegation that the defendant medical care provider departed from the accepted standard of care.

Recently, a New York court addressed the novel issue of whether a defendant doctor deviated from the accepted standard of care by continuing to practice medicine despite his cognitive decline. If you sustained injuries due to inadequate or inappropriate medical care, you should consult a seasoned Syracuse medical malpractice attorney to discuss the facts of your case and whether you may be able to pursue damages.

The Defendant’s Treatment of Plaintiff

Allegedly, the plaintiff, who is intellectually disabled, visited the defendant doctor to obtain results of blood and urine tests. While the plaintiff was in the examining room, the defendant doctor exposed himself and committed a sexual act in front of the plaintiff. The plaintiff subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant doctor and his practice alleging, among other claims, medical malpractice. Following a trial, a jury found that the defendant doctor departed from the accepted standard of care due to the fact that he continued to practice medicine despite his cognitive disability. The defendant doctor appealed, arguing that his actions did not constitute “medical treatment” because they were not related to the essential elements of diagnosis and treatment.

Negligence Versus Medical Malpractice

On appeal, the court noted that medical malpractice differs from ordinary negligence when the acts or omissions alleged require special skills not possessed by an ordinary person. The court further explained that a negligent act is generally medical malpractice when it involves a crucial element of diagnosis and treatment and is an essential part of the process of providing treatment. The court stated, however, that conduct may be malpractice when it bears a significant relation to the treatment of a plaintiff. In sum, the court stated that the critical factor in determining whether an act constitutes negligence or malpractice is the duty the defendant owed the plaintiff and the manner in which it was breached.

In the subject case, the court stated that the defendant was focused on the issue of whether sexual assault committed malpractice, which ignored the crux of the plaintiff’s allegation. Rather, the court noted that issue that must be resolved was whether practicing medicine with dementia, which caused him to commit the inappropriate act in the presence of plaintiff, constituted malpractice.

Here, it was undisputed that the defendant doctor was suffering from an aggressive and degenerative form of dementia and that the plaintiff was a patient at the time of the incident. Further, the court pointed out that the defendant’s own expert stated that if the defendant knew he was unable to provide appropriate care, it would constitute malpractice. The court held that it was reasonable for the jury to find that the defendant doctor was aware of his cognitive decline but failed to protect the plaintiff, who was his patient, from an unreasonable risk of harm thereby committing malpractice. Thus, the court affirmed the jury’s verdict.

Confer with a Seasoned Syracuse Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you were harmed due to inappropriate medical care, it is prudent to confer with a skilled Syracuse medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to discuss whether you may be able to seek compensation. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, our knowledgeable medical malpractice attorneys will aggressively pursue any damages you may be owed. We can be contacted at 315-479-9000 or through our form online to set up a free and confidential conference.

More Blog Posts:

New York Court Overturns Dismissal of Medical Malpractice Case Due to Disputed Facts, Syracuse Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 29, 2019

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