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Definition of medical malpractice expands to include affair

When a Wisconsin resident seeks medical care, he or she assumes a number of protections. These include the right to expect proper and professional care, and to have issues addressed in a timely and medically appropriate manner. When a medical professional violates that implicit trust, medical malpractice claims can follow. One recent case goes a long way toward expanding the legal understanding of what does, and does not, constitute medical malpractice.

The case involves a female patient who became romantically involved with her male doctor. She originally sought treatment for a gastrointestinal condition from the osteopath. However, at some point during the course of that treatment, he also began treating her for anxiety and depression, taking on the role of therapist. An affair developed between the two, and when the woman’s husband discovered the indiscretion, he filed for divorce. The woman sued her doctor for medical malpractice, claiming that the affair resulted due to ‘eroticized transference,’ a process through which patients shift their emotions into feelings for their therapists.

A court ruled that the affair constituted medical malpractice, and awarded the woman over $500,000 in damages. The case made its way through the appellate process, and the state’s highest court recently ruled on the matter, stating that while medical malpractice did occur, the woman shared responsibility for the affair, and reduced her award by 25 percent. In addition, $166,000 in punitive damages was removed when the court found that the doctor did not act in a malicious manner in his inappropriate interactions with his patient.

As this case demonstrates, medical malpractice can take many forms. Anyone who believes that they have been subjected improper care at the hands of a medical professional should begin by speaking to an expert about their rights under state law. A successful medical malpractice claim can bring compensation in the form of compensatory and punitive damages, which can help Wisconsin victims move forward and heal.

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

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