A Pennsylvania court recently ruled that doctors can now be held liable for emotional distress even if they were not negligent. In this particular case, the plaintiff had an ultrasound performed during her pregnancy and was told by the Radiologist that the ultrasound was normal, specifically that the baby was healthy and normal. Four months later she delivered a child with partial arms and legs, hypoglossia, micrognathia and other congenital anomalies. After the delivery she reported grief, rage, nightmares, anxiety, and insomnia, and continued to have these problems thereafter.
The plaintiff sued for negligent inflection of emotional distress, arguing that the doctor did not prepare her for the shock of the birth of a child with deformities. In support of their decision, the court argued that it was reasonably foreseeable that the patient would suffer emotional distress during the birth of her child if not given the results of the ultrasound in advance. They held that because doctors have a fiduciary duty to their patients, they have a legal and ethical responsibility to care for their patients’ wellbeing, including providing accurate information about test results when it is foreseeable that the test results may cause emotional distress.
Some argue that this precedent will cause and increase in emotional distress lawsuits against physicians. We will have to wait and see if there will be a change in the litigation climate.
Toney v. Chester County Hospital, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Middle Dist. 2011