Did Your Doctor Abandon You?

Did Your Doctor Abandon You?

May 6, 2022

In Pennsylvania, abandoning a patient occurs “when a physician withdraws his or her services after a physician-patient relationship has been established, by failing to give notice to the patient of the physician’s intention to withdraw in sufficient time to allow the patient to obtain necessary medical care”.

Abandonment also takes place when a physician leaves the employment of a group practice, hospital, clinic or other health-care facility without the physician giving reasonable notice and under circumstances which seriously impair the delivery of needed medical care to patients. The abrupt closure of a medical practice without prior notice to patients is particularly problematic.

A physician who abandons a patient can be subject to disciplinary action. Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn Attorney Christopher Quinn notes the potential for legal liability as well: “If a patient is harmed by the improper cessation of treatment, a medical malpractice case may potentially be brought against the doctor.”

Examples of Patient Abandonment
Patient abandonment can occur if an attending doctor and/or the “on call” doctor are unavailable for an unreasonable amount of time when a patient needs medical care, causing the patient harm.

Other examples of patient abandonment may include failing to follow up with a patient after prescribing medication, or with a patient instructed to go directly to a hospital.

If a physician fails to fulfill a specific promise regarding the rendering of treatment, that physician may be held liable for patient abandonment as well as breach of contract.

What’s Not Patient Abandonment
Not every situation where a physician terminates a doctor-patient relationship gives rise to an abandonment claim. There are a variety of valid reasons for a termination. The reasons may include:

  • The doctor lacks the requisite skills to render the specific treatment needed
  • Insufficient supplies or resources prevent adequate treatment
  • Ethical or legal conflicts arising during the treatment process
  • The patient refuses to follow the doctor’s instructions
  • The patient engages in inappropriate behavior (e.g., engaging in threatening behavior, or making sexual advances)
  • The patient has numerous cancelled or missed appointments

A patient-doctor relationship can also be terminated because of non-payment by a patient. However, the termination cannot take place when the patient is at a critical stage of treatment.

Elements Required to Prove Patient Abandonment

  • A patient-doctor relationship must have been established
  • The abandonment must have occurred while the patient was still in need of medical care
  • The termination of the relationship did not allow sufficient time for patient to find a suitable replacement physician
  • The patient suffered preventable harm as a result of the abandonment

Premature Discharge From Hospital
There are times when patients are discharged earlier than they should be. A number of factors contribute to premature hospital discharge. Those factors include:

  • Attempts to alleviate overcrowding
  • Making room for new patients
  • Generating more revenue with quicker patient turnaround
  • Pressure from insurance companies to reduce costs
  • Failure of medical providers to effectively communicate with one another and/or ensure that the patient receives the appropriate care his/her condition requires before discharge

Regardless of the reason, if the premature discharge harms the patient, it may amount to medical malpractice. Hospitals can be held directly liable for their own negligence and can also be held “vicariously” liable for the negligence of their staff.

Common Types of Premature Discharge
Premature hospital discharges typically occur in one of the following events:

  • Infant discharge
  • Discharge after an emergency room visit
  • Discharge following surgery

Recovering Damages for Medical Malpractice
In the event of a settlement or a favorable verdict, the plaintiff (patient) may receive financial compensation for harm caused by the medical malpractice. The compensation may cover medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering. If the negligence results in death, damages under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death/Survival statues may be recoverable by the beneficiaries of the patient’s Estate. If the defendant’s conduct is malicious, willful, wanton or recklessly indifferent to the patient’s safety and/or well-being, punitive damages may also be awarded.

If you’ve suffered a serious medical problem as a result of abandonment by your doctor, or premature discharge from the hospital, call the personal injury attorneys at Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn at (800) 760-1529.