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Court rules that doctor's affair with patient is medical malpractice

Massachusetts residents face a wide range of situations in which they could become the victims of malpractice. While most medical malpractice cases focus on medical errors made by practitioners or institutions, there are other cases that present a very different legal argument. One such case recently faced one state's highest court, which determined that an affair between a doctor and patient can constitute medical malpractice.

The case involved a female patient who sought medical treatment for a gastrointestinal condition. At some point during the course of treatment, the doctor also began addressing some mental health concerns. The patient claims that an affair began based on 'eroticized transference' that occurred when she began shifting her emotions onto the doctor due to his role as her therapist.

A court agreed and awarded her over $500,000 in damages. The doctor appealed that ruling, and the state's top court ultimately stripped away $166,000 in punitive damages in its finding that the doctor did not act maliciously in his breach of professional duty. In addition, the court ruled that the patient carries some responsibility for her decision to engage in a sexual relationship with her doctor and decreased her award by 25 percent. In total, she will receive just over $250,000 in damages.

This case highlights the fact that medical malpractice can take many forms. For patients who have suffered as a result of seeking medical treatment, it is advisable to determine the extent of their rights under Massachusetts law. A successful medical malpractice lawsuit can go a long way toward covering the costs of past and projected medical care associated with the event.

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

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