SWOV Catalogus

122999

Doctors, drugs, and driving : tort liability for patient-caused accidents.
C 44348 [electronic version only]
Annas, G.J.
The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 359 (2008), No. 5 (July 31), p. 521-525

Samenvatting This commentary article considers whether physicians have any duty to patients who are taking drugs the physician has prescribed when those drugs are likely to have an adverse effect on the patient's ability to drive safely. The author stresses that everyone has a duty to drive reasonably, and all drivers are legally responsible for accidents they cause by driving in an unreasonable manner, including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He then considers whether the possible duty of the prescribing physician may extent to other people injured in an automobile accident if the accident is caused by a patient experiencing the foreseeable side effects of a prescribed medication and the physician did not inform the patient of these side effects. The author reports on some legal rulings in this area, focusing on a case that went to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Coombes vs Florio. The opinions that the justices wrote in this case are discussed in detail. Although this was not a malpractice case, and thus is not governed by the law of informed consent, the content of the doctor's obligation under the ruling of the case is consistent with and requires nothing more of the physician than to follow existing rules of informed consent. The commentary article addresses problems with the court's decision in the use of the word "warn" instead of the word "inform," as well as the multiple references to another case that did not involve a physician but was about the duty of a pharmacist to warn a customer about the side effects of a prescribed medication. The author concludes by emphasizing that the court's decision makes no fundamental changes in the obligation of the physician and is unlikely to result in many new lawsuits or a drop in the number of appropriately prescribed medications for pain.
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