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Should medical providers have a duty to non-patients?

There are specific factors necessary to file a medical malpractice claim. Possibly the most important element is to prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed before the injury. This is what links the negligent medical professional to their legal liability.

However, one New Jersey family wants to sue a doctor they had no legal relationship with whatsoever.

Who is at fault: The driver or the doctor?

Back in 2014, 71-year-old Judith Schrope was riding her bicycle, when motorist Barbara Mulford-Dera struck her. Police reported that Schrope did not wear a helmet and sustained a head injury resulting in her death.

This situation was not an average bicycle-car crash. At the time of the accident, Mulford-Dera was under the influence of psychotropic medication that could have impaired her ability to drive. So, instead of seeking compensation from Mulford-Dera, Schrope's family sued the doctor who prescribed her the medication for negligence.

The original trial found that Dr. Stefan Lerner, Mulford-Dera's psychiatrist, had no legal duty to Schrope. Her family appealed the decision, and now the American Medical Association (AMA) reports that New Jersey appellate courts are reviewing the case.

How could the decision affect future personal injury claims? 

The appellate court's decision could have a significant impact on a variety of personal injury claims. This decision involving a bicycle-car crash could actually have a serious effect on medical malpractice claims.

The doctor-patient relationship is a key element in proving medical malpractice. If that relationship extends to non-patients, the AMA claims that doctors would have too much liability to handle.

Does the family deserve the right to sue?

The question of whether doctors should have a duty to non-patients is a difficult one to answer. There are often many parties who share fault in an accident, especially in this case. Would this decision help hold all negligent parties responsible? It is hard to say.

There is no doubt that Schrope's family suffered a serious loss. And they could still be entitled to compensation. They could pursue action against Mulford-Dera for the accident, and the wrongful death of their loved one. However, whether they have the right to sue Dr. Lerner for medical malpractice is now up to the New Jersey courts to decide.


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