Court: Physicians not liable for patients' risky behavior

In malpractice cases, patients can be held at least partially responsible when their own risky behaviors contribute to bad outcomes, even if knowledge of those behaviors comes from a third party, according to a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling.

In the case of Kelly v. Haralampopoulos, a patient's family accused two Colorado physicians of medical liability following a patient's cardiac arrest during a biopsy performed after the patient presented with abdominal pain. Ten days after the incident, which resulted in permanent brain injury, the patient's former girlfriend asked one of the physicians if his prior cocaine use could explain why he was slow to respond to their resuscitation efforts, according to court documents.

Although an appeals court threw out the third-party statements about the patient's drug use, the Supreme Court reversal represents an important exception to a rule barring hearsay from being admissible in court, according to a post from the Alabama Injury Attorneys Blog. "Specifically, the court indicated the term 'diagnosis' doesn't necessarily mean there will be subsequent treatment [counter the appellate court decision]," the authors wrote. "In seeking to discover the cause of the patient's reaction to treatment, the conversation did fall under the hearsay exception."

The American Medical Association, which co-wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the doctors in the case, stated the following in regard to the decision: "The physicians appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which upheld the decision of the trial court, in a ruling upholding that patients can be at least partially responsible for their health outcomes as a result of their own unhealthy behavior," reported by HCPLive.

To learn more:
- read court opinion
- here's the HCPLive article
- Read the post from the Alabama Injury Attorneys Blog