Doctor's chest

You've heard that doctors and physicians have a duty of care that is owed to their patients. This means they must attempt to provide high-level medical care to those who have entrusted them to do so. It doesn't mean they must always succeed, but it, at least, means they can't be negligent and they should provide the care that a person can reasonably expect from a medical professional.

Outside of the Office

But what about events that happen outside of the office? Does that duty of care extend outward simply because the person is a trained medical professional?

For instance, perhaps a doctor is flying on a plane. In the back of the plane, a man appears to go into cardiac arrest. They won't be able to make an emergency landing for at least 30 minutes, so the case is critical. If a doctor is watching from a seat three rows in front of that man, is he or she obligated to render assistance and try to save the man's life?

In short, the answer is no. The doctor can simply turn around and wait for the plane to land. If the man suffers harm or passes away, he and his family members can't sue the doctor if they find out he was on the plane and did nothing.

Duty of Care

The reason is that the duty of care is not owed to anyone with whom the doctor does not have some type of relationship. While it is owed to patients in a typical medical setting who are actively under the doctor's care, it is not owed to anyone else nearby due to proximity alone.

The doctor can create this duty of care, however. If he or she does decide to help that man, and then acts negligently and causes him further harm, the family may be able to sue the doctor based on this negligence. This is why medical professionals are sometimes hesitant to step in.

Of course, negligence is still the key. The doctor isn't obligated to save the man, only to provide him with professional care that is free from avoidable errors.

Your Rights

With this in mind, do you believe a doctor owed you a duty of care and negligently injured you? If so, be sure you know your options.