Duty of care is a critical component of any negligence claim necessary to establish liability. It is well recognized at common law that a physician owes a duty to advise a patient but is not mandated to take affirmative measures outside the physician-patient relationship to protect a third-party. Health care providers may also be responsible for oversight, or the failure to safeguard a patient, due to a special relationship they undertake, such as failing to properly diagnose or recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Recently, the courts have struggled over whether public policy and fairness require the expansion of the law to impose liability upon health care providers for injuries sustained by third parties caused by patients in motor vehicle accidents.

Various theories are advanced to establish liability, such as the physician being negligent by violating a statute created to protect the public through negligence per se, establishing prima facie negligence, or offering evidence of carelessness. A clear court consensus has failed to emerge whether the common law should be expanded in favor of responsibility. This article will provide a brief history of the efforts to enlarge physician liability to third parties. It will then focus on the cases that have arisen against physicians by a third party injured in a motor vehicle accident related to a patient’s medical condition or medication side-effects. This is a dilemma confronting the courts on a regular basis.

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