Ethical prohibitions on sexual contact between medical doctors and their patients go back at least as far as the 2,500-year-old Hippocratic Oath, and probably much farther. Despite such a long history, inappropriate sexual conduct by doctors toward patients, ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault, is still a substantial problem today. Laws at the federal and state levels, along with those in many cities, protect employees against sexual harassment and other misconduct in the workplace, but no statute specifically addresses this issue in the doctor-patient relationship. A patient seeking to hold a medical professional civilly liable for sexual abuse must turn to the common law. A lawsuit currently pending against a Manhattan doctor illustrates these types of claims. Newman v. Mt. Sinai Med. Ctr., Inc., et. al, No. 151392/2016, am. complaint (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty., Feb. 23, 2016).
Several tort claims under New York common law can enable a patient to hold a medical doctor liable for sexual abuse. Intentional torts like assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) may apply to situations in which a doctor abuses their position and engages in inappropriate sexual behavior or contact. Each of these requires proof that the defendant intentionally engaged in the conduct that led to the plaintiff’s injury, which does not necessarily have to involve physical injury. Some intentional tort claims also require proof that the defendant intended to cause an injury.
Tort claims based on negligence require a plaintiff to prove four key elements: (1) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) this breach was the cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the plaintiff suffered actual, quantifiable damages as a result. The term “medical malpractice” refers to negligence claims involving doctors and other medical professionals who breached a professional duty of care. This type of claim could apply in a situation involving sexual abuse by a doctor if it had a direct and adverse impact on the plaintiff’s care. The tort of negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) is often difficult to prove but is also a possibility in such cases.
The plaintiff in Newman went to the emergency department of a Manhattan hospital, complaining of shoulder pain. Nurses administered a dose of morphine at the direction of her treating physician. The plaintiff alleges that the doctor then administered an additional dose of something she believed to be morphine, over her objections. While she was physically incapacitated by the medication but still conscious, the doctor allegedly sexually assaulted her.
She states in her complaint that she complained to multiple other doctors, but no immediate action was taken. She called the police herself after being discharged. The police transported her to another hospital, where DNA tests confirmed many of her allegations. The doctor was arrested and now faces felony sexual assault charges.
The lawsuit names the hospital and nine employees as defendants, including the doctor accused of the sexual assault, two other physicians, one physician assistant, and five registered nurses. The complaint asserts a cause of action against the hospital for negligent hiring, training, retention, and supervision, alleging that the hospital knew or should have known about prior sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by the doctor. It also claims assault, battery, IIED, NIED, and medical malpractice.
The sexual harassment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent job applicants, employees, and former employees in New York City in claims for sexual harassment and other unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable employee rights advocate, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
More Blog Posts:
Report Highlights Sexual Harassment, Abuse of Patients by Doctors in New York and Around the Country, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 8, 2016
Lawsuit Against Property Owner Alleges Conspiracy in Connection with Sexual Assault Claim, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 22, 2016
Sexual Harassment Regulations for New York City Taxi Drivers Proposed, then Withdrawn, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 15, 2016