Does duty stop at door?

August 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer yesterday to a case that will have implications on a hospital’s duty to protect its patients from suspected abusers. Indiana Lawyer Daily wrote about the case in March when the majority of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a hospital has a duty to protect patients from abusers. The case stems from the murder of a woman by her ex-husband after she was released from the hospital. Hospital staff suspected the injuries were caused by the ex-husband, but the woman denied any abuse when questioned, declined to stay in the hospital, and chose to leave with her ex-husband.

The court decision led to a dissent by Chief Judge John Baker who believed the majority erred in finding the hospital had a duty to the woman, saying the majority didn’t address how far the duty extends. He questions how far would the hospital have to go to keep people in the hospital – locking them in a room, or drugging them – in order to prevent them from leaving with suspected abusers.

If and how the Supreme Court rules on this case could create new issues of liability for hospitals regarding its patients. Many victims of domestic violence fear calling attention to their abuse or turning in their abuser. Hospitals have protocols to follow regarding cases of suspected abuse, which may not have been completely followed in this case. But if a suspected victim of domestic violence is of sound mind (something that is up for debate in the opinion) and voluntarily leaves with her suspected abuser, should the hospital be held responsible for future injuries or death? Should the duty of the hospital extend beyond the hospital’s door?
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