Medical Malpractice Award Upheld Against Psychiatrist who Slept with Patient

When we think of medical malpractice cases it is natural to think of missed diagnoses, improper treatment, etc.  But a Long Island Court has upheld a medical malpractice award of $416,500 against a psychiatrist accused of sleeping with his patient whom he was treating for depression and anxiety.  The woman initially sought treatment after her child was born with cerebral palsy.  As a result of the psychiatrists abuse of trust, the woman claimed that her husband divorced her, she lost partial custody of her daughter, and her anxiety and depression skyrocketed.

The jury, interestingly, found the plaintiff 25% at fault which raises difficult legal questions.  The plaintiff argued, of course, that because of her mental state and the nature of the doctor-patient relationship, she should not be held at all responsible for the inappropriate relationship.  Justice Rebolini disagreed:

[G]iven the plaintiff’s age and experience and notwithstanding the defendant’s professional status and the nature of the parties’ relationship at its inception (doctor/patient), it remained that the plaintiff was possessed of a will of her own and was not utterly bound by defendant’s influence or choices but, rather, free to exercise her judgment and to engage in such conduct as she chose.

In response to plaintiff’s post-verdict motion, Judge Rebolini further stated:

Plaintiff was not denuded, by virtue of the physician patient relationship, of an ability to control her own conduct and to exercise her own adult judgment given the extended period of and the palpably apparent consequences of the conduct in question herein, an affair where both parties were married to others.

The defense argued that this was not a medical malpractice case at all, but rather, a claim for seduction or alienation of affection, both of which have been abolished by state law.  Rebolini reasoned that a jury could conclude that the prescription of medications could have had an impact on the plaintiff which in view of the inappropriate relationship is rightfully medical malpractice.