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Court: consensual affair between doctor and patient is malpractice

Early last month, in this Michigan medical malpractice blog, we discussed an interesting case that was being decided by an appeals court on the east coast. The question before the court was whether a consensual affair between a physician and a patient constituted medical malpractice.

The court has now ruled that it was in fact medical malpractice, but the jury award was lowered because the court also found that the married patient shared some of the responsibility for the affair.

The jury set the woman's fault at 25 percent and will reduce her total damages--$338,000--by that amount.

The adulterous affair reportedly began in 2001; the woman had begun seeing the family practitioner in 2000 for depression and anxiety and she had also been treated by him for stomach issues. The nine-month affair ultimately resulted in the woman's divorce and she filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor in 2005.

In her lawsuit she argued that her feelings for the physician resulted from "eroticized transference," a term that describes a patient transferring and attaching emotions onto her therapist. An argument was also made that the affair actually interfered with the medical treatment she originally sought from the doctor.

Whether the affair affected the patient's condition does not negate comparative fault, the court stated in its unanimous ruling. In addition to reducing the woman's settlement by 25 percent for her role in the affair, it also threw out punitive damages that had been awarded by a lower court. It did so because the court did not think the doctor's actions were malicious, or meant to cause harm.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "NY court says affair is medical malpractice," Nov. 29, 2012

  • Our Ann Arbor personal injury law firm helps victims of medical malpractice file claims. More information about this area of our practice is available on our Michigan Medical Malpractice page.

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