Maryland Court Considers Whether Physician Owes Duty to Non-Patient

In order to hold a defendant liable in a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. In the absence of a doctor-patient relationship, there are rare circumstances under which the law may impose a duty of care to a third party who never received treatment. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed this issue in Puppolo v. Holy Cross Hosp. of Silver Spring, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Nov. 14, 2016), a recent case arising out of the medical treatment of the plaintiff’s mother.

In Puppolo, the plaintiff’s mother received treatment at the defendant’s hospital for an intracranial hemorrhage, involving a bedsore on her lower back. The bedsore became a serious health issue that required extensive treatment, and the plaintiff’s mother eventually passed away. The plaintiff sued the hospital, alleging claims of medical malpractice, battery, fraudulent concealment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s personal claim for fraudulent concealment, and the plaintiff appealed.

In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant intentionally concealed the existence of the bedsores and its failure to treat those bedsores, thus placing undue and unnecessary mental strain on the plaintiff. The necessary elements for fraudulent concealment are:  (1) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to disclose a material fact; (2) the defendant failed to disclose that fact; (3) the defendant intended to defraud or deceive the plaintiff; (4) the plaintiff took action in justifiable reliance on the concealment; and (5) the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s concealment.

On appeal, the court emphasized that a claim for fraudulent concealment first requires that there is a duty the defendant owes to the plaintiff. Generally, recovery for malpractice against a physician is allowed only when there is a relationship between the doctor and the patient. However, the court acknowledged that extraordinary circumstances could create a doctor to non-patient relationship sufficient to impose the requisite duty to maintain the tort action. The court cited two examples from other jurisdictions in which such a relationship was found, which involved either a communicable disease that was actually transmitted to the plaintiff or that was easily transmittable through causal contact, or a special relationship between the patient and a third person that put the third person in particular and foreseeable danger.

The appeals court in Puppolo held that the plaintiff must establish that her own special relationship with her mother’s health care providers created a separate duty to her. The court noted that the plaintiff did not allege that her mother’s ulcer was contagious or put her personally in foreseeable danger, only that it caused her emotional distress. Finding no special relationship, the court concluded that the plaintiff could not prove that her mother’s health care providers owed her a duty. As a result, the lower court’s order dismissing the fraudulent concealment claim was upheld.

If you or a family member have been a victim of negligent medical care, you may have legal recourse against your treatment providers. The Maryland medical malpractice attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. assist people in seeking compensation for their losses in personal injury and wrongful death cases. To learn more about your legal options, contact Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or online and schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Rules Expert Testimony Required to Establish Plaintiff’s Claim for Lack of Informed Consent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 18, 2016

Maryland Plaintiffs May Bring Wrongful Death Action Despite Successful Personal Injury Claim of Decedent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 15, 2016

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