A few weeks ago, a federal judge allowed a civil lawsuit to go forward against a medical provider who failed to report suspected abuse. The only public records are the complaint and pleadings related to the motion to dismiss, so it is impossible to know the actual facts. The complaint alleges, however, that doctors who examined a baby for unexplained bruising failed to tell the mother that one of the possible causes was physical abuse. The mother also claims that the doctors failed to notify child protection authorities of suspected abuse. Some time later, the mother's boyfriend fractured the child's skull, causing brain damage. The mother's lawsuit claims that, if the doctors had told her about the possibility of abuse, she would have protected the baby from her boyfriend.
The medical center moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the mandated reporter law does not allow a private cause of action. The judge disagreed, phrasing the question as being the medical standard of care.
As the lawsuit goes forward, different facts may come out and the medical providers may ultimately prevail. In litigation, however, the process often is its own punishment. At best, the medical providers will suffer stress, distraction from their jobs, and lost time. This is another cautionary tale that, for better or for worse, reporting even speculative concerns may be the better course.
U.S. District Judge Lance Walker said “the crux of the lawsuit was a breach of the standard of care for medical providers.” He added that, in the early stages of litigation, he “accepts the inference that an ordinarily competent provider could be governed by a duty to inform the parent of a minor child that a differential diagnosis includes physical abuse.”