Legal background

Summary judgment allows a judge to render a decision without a full trial. It requires two preconditions:

  1. There are no disputed issues of fact that a jury would decide.
  2. When the law is applied to those undisputed facts, one party is clearly entitled to prevail.

In this case, both sides agreed that Mr. Q was not a patient of Mr. Z and that he did not come to Mr. Z seeking medical advice. Mr. Q underwent the CT scan only to test the equipment, with no expectations of getting medical advice or treatment. Since no patient-clinician relationship existed, Mr. Z had no duty to fulfill.

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In unusual cases, a patient-clinician relationship can sometimes be established if a person asks for medical advice or a patient’s clinician consults with a second health-care provider. However, neither scenario was evident here.

Protecting yourself

One of the basic elements of any malpractice lawsuit is establishing the relationship between patient and provider and the duty of care that the relationship creates.

Mr. Z did nothing wrong. Whether Mr. Q was his patient or not, when the PA became aware of the potentially dangerous calcification, he warned Mr. Q and twice clearly told him to seek help. Even if Mr. Q had been Mr. Z’s patient, the legal outcome would have been the same.

Even if Mr. Z had had a duty to treat, placed the scan report in the chart, made a notation about the need for a cardiologist visit, and told Mr. Q to make an appointment, Mr. Q still would have died because he ignored that advice. No amount of clinical documentation would have changed that, and the consequence would have been identical: tragic, but not Mr. Z’s fault.

Ms. Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.