Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Torts-Burroughs V. Magee: The Tennessee Supreme Court Extends a Physician's Duty to the Motoring Public to Warn Patients of the Effects of Taking Medication While Driving but Declines to Extend a Duty to Third Parties for Negligent Prescription Decisions

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Torts-Burroughs V. Magee: The Tennessee Supreme Court Extends a Physician's Duty to the Motoring Public to Warn Patients of the Effects of Taking Medication While Driving but Declines to Extend a Duty to Third Parties for Negligent Prescription Decisions

Article excerpt

On July 31, 1997, truck driver Roger Hosteller ran a stop sign and collided with another vehicle, killing the driver, Harold Burroughs, and seriously injuring his wife, Judy Burroughs (Burroughs).1 On the day before the accident, Hostetler visited the Dyersburg Medical Group complaining of persistent headaches and weakness in his body.2 Doctor Robert Magee examined Hostetler and prescribed Esgic-Plus and Soma to him; both drugs depress the nervous system and affect one's driving ability.3

Since 1986, Hosteller had visited the clinic several times after suffering injuries to his leg and back.4 His medical chart indicated that prior to Dr. Magee's examination, other treating physicians had given Hostetler prescriptions for Soma but had later refused to prescribe Soma for fear that he was abusing the drug in conjunction with his occupation as a truck driver.5 Notably, one physician at the clinic wrote in an office note:

[Hostetler] was demanding that I prescribe the Soma for him and I have declined to do so because I think this has reached the stage of substance abuse and I don't feel that I should prescribe this medication for him to continue taking while driving a rig on the highways across the country.6

Nevertheless, Dr. Magee prescribed the medications without reviewing this note.7 On the day of the accident, Hostetler had taken one dose of each drug at breakfast and another at lunch.8

Burroughs filed suit against Hostetler and claimed damages for personal injury and the wrongful death of her husband.9 She later amended her complaint to include Dr. Magee as a defendant.10 Burroughs alleged that Dr. Magee negligently prescribed the drugs and failed to warn Hosteller of the drugs' potential impairment of his driving ability.11 Dr. Magee moved for summary judgment and contended that he did not owe a duty of care to unknown third parties.12 The trial court granted Dr. Magee's motion for summary judgment and Burroughs appealed.13 The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that "Dr. Magee owed a duty of care to [Burroughs] and her husband to warn Mr. Hostetler of the risks of driving while under the influence of the prescribed drugs [but] . . . owed no duty of care to [Burroughs] and her husband in making prescription decisions regarding Mr. Hosteller's treatment."14

After granting permission to appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court held, affirmed.15 A physician owes a duty to foreseeable third parties to warn a patient of the "risks of driving while under the influence of . . . prescribed drugs[,]" but does not owe a duty to foreseeable third parties when deciding whether to prescribe medications to a patient. Burroughs V. Magee, 118 S.W.3d 323 (Tenn. 2003).

Courts determine whether a physician owes a duty to third parties under traditional negligence standards.16 To determine whether a duty of care exists, courts analyze whether the risk to a plaintiff was unreasonable in light of principles of fairness.17 An unreasonable risk exists if "the foreseeable probability and gravity of harm posed by defendant's conduct outweigh the burden upon the defendant to engage in alternative conduct that would have prevented the harm."18 In addition to this balancing approach, courts rely heavily on public policy to determine whether a duty exists.19

In Burroughs v. Magee, as an issue of first impression, the Tennessee Supreme Court considered a physician's duty to third parties to warn a patient about the side effects of prescription medication.20 Other states impose such a duty on physicians to third parties to warn their patients about the possible impairment that may result from taking prescription medication.21 Texas courts, for instance, impose a duty upon physicians to protect third parties when the facts demonstrate that a warning to the patient would be effective.22 In Gooden v. Tips, a Texas appellate court held that a physician might have a duty to third party motorists to warn patients that prescription medication can impair their driving ability. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.