Boston Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney, the attorney , reviews a recent Supreme Judicial Court case involving an injured police officer:
A Massachusetts police officer who suffered serious personal injuries, while responding to a motor vehicle/pedestrian accident, cannot recover from the hospital, which treated and released the pedestrian just prior to the accident, says the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
In November, 2004, the Brockton, Massachusetts police officer, was responding to a car accident involving a pedestrian, While driving to the accident scene, the officer’s police cruiser was struck by another vehicle resulting in serious and permanent injuries to the officer. He was responding to an accident in which an individual just released from Brockton Hospital had been struck and killed by a motor vehicle.
The patient had undergone a colonoscopy at the hospital earlier in the day and had been given Demerol and Versed, both narcotic sedatives. The hospital had a written policy, which prevented patients who had been given narcotics from being discharged without an escort. This patient left the hospital with no escort.
The Plaintiff police officer had alleged that the hospital was negligent and had a duty of care to protect third parties from harm caused by its “impaired” patients. The officer claimed that the hospital had a special medical relationship with its patient prior to him leaving the premises, which created a duty to control the patient’s conduct in order to protect against harm the patient might cause to others, even after the patient had been discharged.
Following precedent, the Supreme Judicial Court refused to expand the duty of care of medical professionals, including hospitals with respect to the control of third persons based on any special relationship. Massachusetts appeals courts have been reluctant to impose a duty to assert control over the acts of another person. A specific exception is a police officer’s duty to detain a drunk driver after a traffic stop to prevent him from continuing to operate a vehicle. The court distinguished this case because the patient did not pose a heightened risk of harm to the public, as, for instance, might be the case of a mental health patient.
The hospital had also argued, and the Court agreed, that the injury in this case, which was the result of the officer being stuck by a vehicle not operated by the patient, was not a foreseeable harm, and not one that the hospital should be required to take measures to prevent.
The case was clearly an attempt to stretch the limits of causation and the notion of foreseeable harm. Where an impaired patient was the primary cause of an injury, the result likely would have been different, but in this case, the police officer’s duty to respond to an accident could not be specifically blamed on the patient, and therefore the hospital, which released him.