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Do Illinois Healthcare Providers Have a Duty to Third Parties?

April 26, 2011

Suppose that a patient leaves your office (or emergency department), takes medication you prescribed, becomes sleepy from the medication, and crashes his or her car into another vehicle. Your patient is uninjured, but the person in the other vehicle suffered permanent damages.

The other person, now a plaintiff in a lawsuit, sues you, stating that your patient caused the accident because of medications that you prescribed and that you didn’t warn the patient of the medication’s side effects.

How far will the case against you get in Illinois?

Not very.

While there can be exceptions to the rule, such as with parties who “voluntarily undertake” to provide services and then provide those services in a negligent manner (such as a landlord who provides security for an office building but then does so negligently), in general it is a pretty safe bet that health care providers have no duty to third parties.

In Tedrick v. Community Resource Center, Inc., the Illinois Supreme Court held that “the duty of care owed by a health care professional runs only to the patient, and not to third parties.”

The decision discusses several other cases in which third parties sued medical providers. Medical providers were not held liable for spread of tuberculosis between a patient and nurse. However, in another court opinion, a mother who helped hold her son while staff put sutures in her son’s face, who then fainted and hit her head could recover damages if she was invited to participate in her son’s care.

The opinion also discusses the leading case in the matter, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, and “rejected the rational [sic] of the Tarasoff case.”

While this is a “boring” legal opinion, the cases discussed are interesting to think about, so if you have a question about the duties physicians may have to third parties in Illinois, the case is worth the time to read.

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