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Trial court correctly determined physician had no duty to patient

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The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that summary judgment is appropriate for a physician being sued for medical malpractice because there was no physician-patient relationship.

Ruth Giles, 57, went to the hospital in August 2010 to have an outpatient closed nasal reduction surgery. She had fallen and broken her nose two weeks prior to the surgery. The surgery had no major complications, but afterward, Giles had continued low blood pressure and chest pain. The surgeon contacted the on-call hospitalist to take a look at Giles.

The hospitalist visited with Giles, but once he checked her chart and saw her family doctor had not authorized the hospitalist or his group to treat his patients, the hospitalist told Giles he couldn’t treat her because she was not a hospitalist patient. The family doctor preferred to continue care of his patients while in the hospital.

Giles was eventually admitted to the hospital, where her condition deteriorated after testing positive for influenza. She died three days after the surgery, with her cause of death listed as cardiopulmonary arrest due to respiratory failure and pneumonia.

Giles’ husband sued, on behalf of himself and her estate, the physicians, hospital, and other medical entities involved in Giles’ care. None of the defendants are identified in the court opinion because James Giles also filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint with the Department of Insurance at the same time he filed his court action. Indiana law allows this practice as long as defendants cannot be identified.

The trial court ruled in favor of the hospitalist and the medical corporation he worked for, finding the hospitalist did not have a physician-patient relationship with Giles and therefore owed no duty to her.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, pointing to caselaw that clearly explains that a physician who does not treat a patient or perform some affirmative act regarding the patient has no doctor-patient relationship and thus owes no duty to that patient.

It’s undisputed that the hospitalist did not render any care to Giles, the judges held, noting that the physician did not submit a billing charge for Giles and informed the surgeon and Giles that her family doctor did not give him permission to treat her.

The case is James Giles, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of Ruth Giles, deceased v. Anonymous Physician I, Anonymous Corporation I, Anonymous Hospital I, Anonymous Physician II, et al., 03A01-1306-CT-257.
 

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