Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania courts allow new kind of emotional distress claim

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, citing a number of cases from other jurisdictions where doctors have caused emotional distress to their patients while not in any way being physically negligent in a patient's care, has allowed for a mother to recover for emotional distress because the doctor had not adequately prepared her concerning her new-born baby's deformities. The outcome of the medical malpractice claim led to the court siding for the mother as elements of negligence and foreseeability had been adequately pled.

It has been alleged by attorneys for the plaintiff that the doctor in this lawsuit failed to adequately diagnose the unborn baby child's condition. A pelvic ultrasound led a doctor to believe that there were no fetal abnormalities in the unborn child, and that the child was normal and healthy. However, the child was actually born with no arms below the elbows, no legs below the knees, suffered from deformed tongue and jaw and suffered from a variety of other maladies.

The loosening of restrictions upon claims for emotional distress is part of a nationwide trend as the consequences of emotional injury are more profound than previously believed. Generally some sort of physical injury is required for claims of emotional distress to prevail. The two exceptions to these circumstances include:

  1. Plaintiffs that were in the "danger zone" of the negligence - for example, the individual making the claim for emotional distress was very nearly injured by the defendant's negligence
  2. Plaintiff sees an injury inflicted on a family member due to someone else's negligence.

It now appears that failure to convey accurate information by a physician when a physician is required to do so may make for a third exception to the physical injury requirement.

In any case, physicians need to provide more than just medical care for their patients. Physicians need to communicate accurate and timely information to their patients is every bit as vital in the patient's care.

Source: Medical Daily, "Doctors Can Be Sued for Emotional Distress Even Without Physical Negligence," by Christine Hsu, Jan. 31, 2012

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