pennsylvania patients can sue for emotional pain without injuries

When most people think about medical malpractice claims, they think about a healthcare provider who caused severe physical harm to a patient. That is the quintessential definition of medical malpractice. However, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that a doctor can be sued for causing a patient emotional distress, even if there is no physical injury.

The landmark case involved a pregnant woman who went to her doctor for a pelvic ultrasound. The doctor told the mother that her unborn baby was normal and healthy. But the doctor was wrong, and his failure to warn the mother about her baby’s deformities created enormous emotional pain for her.

When her son was born, he had no arms below the elbows, no legs below the knee joints and numerous other serious birth defects. Following the birth of her child, the mother suffered from a range of mental problems, including grief, rage, nausea, hysteria, nervousness, sleeplessness, nightmares and anxiety.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that it is a doctor’s job to give accurate information, and failing to do so is a breach of the physician’s duties. In this case, that breach of duty caused unusual and extreme emotional distress.

This case indicates that doctors are responsible not only for providing a standard of care that prevents needless physical injury to patients, but that prevents needless emotional trauma as well. The reality is that, in this case, had the mother been properly informed, she would likely have had time to process the very complex emotions associated with having a child with severe disabilities. Instead, she unnecessarily experienced extreme shock at an already very stressful and vulnerable time.

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

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