Massachusetts Court Defines Duties Physicians Owe to Parents of Minor Patients

Physicians owe a duty of care to their patients, which includes the duty to provide the patient with the information needed to make intelligent and informed decisions regarding potential treatment, and a doctor that violates this duty can be held liable for medical malpractice. When the patient is a child, a treating physician owes the duty to disclose pertinent information to the child’s parents. As recently discussed in a Massachusetts medical malpractice case, however, the duties owed to the parent of a patient do not include the duty to treat the parent. If you were injured by incompetent medical care in Massachusetts, it is prudent to speak with a skillful Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding what damages you may be owed.

Factual Background of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff-child was admitted to the psychiatric ward of a hospital after she ingested several pills with suicidal intent. The plaintiff-child was hospitalized for six weeks, during which she rarely communicated with the plaintiff-mother. Following the plaintiff-child’s discharge, the plaintiff-mother filed a lawsuit against the defendant hospital, alleging, in part, that the defendant committed medical malpractice by failing to provide family-driven treatment or facilitating communications between the plaintiff-mother and plaintiff-child. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the medical malpractice claims, which the court granted. The plaintiff appealed, but on appeal, the appellate court affirmed.

Duties Physicians Owe to Parents of Minor Patients

Under Massachusetts law, when a patient is a minor, the parent or individual responsible for making healthcare decisions for the child is usually the child’s legal custodian. Thus, a physician treating the child has a duty to advise the custodial adult of any significant medical information regarding the child that is pertinent to making informed decisions regarding treatment. In the subject case, the plaintiff-mother was the plaintiff-child’s custodial adult, and therefore the defendant had a duty to obtain the plaintiff-mother’s informed consent prior to treating the child.

The court held, however, that contrary to the plaintiff-mother’s assertions, the defendant had no duty to treat the plaintiff-mother or to attempt to improve the relationship between the plaintiff-mother and plaintiff-child or provide the plaintiff-mother with care once the plaintiff-child was discharged. Specifically, the court explained that a doctor’s duties are based on the doctor-patient relationship and that the relationship is typically consensual. Thus, by agreeing to provide care for a child, a doctor does not, by extension, become a care provider for the child’s parents or family. Further, the court noted that a duty to treat a parent as well as a child could result in conflicts, such as when the parents’ best interests depart from the best interests of the child. Thus, the court found that the trial court appropriately dismissed the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims.

Speak to a Seasoned Personal Injury Attorney

If you were harmed by medical negligence, it is advisable to speak to an attorney regarding what claims you may possibly be able to pursue. The seasoned  Massachusetts personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are proficient at helping injured parties seek redress for their harm, and we will work tirelessly to help you seek just results. You can contact us at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to schedule a conference.