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The Connecticut Supreme Court Extends Physician’s Duty of Care to an Identifiable Non-Patient Third Party

Posted in Providers

In Doe v. Cochran, 332 Conn. 325, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently addressed a matter of first impression regarding whether a physician may owe a duty of care to a non-patient. Addressing medical testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the Court extended a doctor’s duty of care to an identified third-party—namely, the patient’s exclusive romantic partner.

The Court held that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff despite her status as a non-patient, third party. Addressing any concern that the holding would lead to a “slippery slope,” the Court emphasized that the defendant was well aware of the plaintiff’s existence. The Court described its holding as “quite limited” and extending “only to identifiable third parties who are engaged in an exclusive romantic relationship with a patient at the time of testing, and, therefore, may foreseeably be exposed to any STD that a physician fails to diagnose or properly report.”

In this decision, the Court resolved a clear, but relatively narrow issue: in the context of STD testing, physicians now owe a duty of care to non-patients identified to the physician as the patient’s exclusive partner. Despite the majority’s emphasis on the limited nature of its holding, all of the contours of this newly recognized duty remain unresolved. Will courts use this holding by analogy to extend a physician’s duty to non-patients outside the context of STD testing? Will later cases extend the definition of “identifiable” third parties beyond the limited circumstances of this case? These and other questions will certainly arise in later cases.

For more information see the Day Pitney Alert.

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