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Patient Abandonment and Negligence

Patient AbandonmentGenerally, a doctor-patient relationship is terminated, if at all, when the ailment necessitating the relationship’s creation has been sufficiently managed. Sometimes, however, a medical professional will terminate the relationship before the patient’s condition has stabilized, which can have significant health consequences for the patient, and significant legal consequences for the doctor.

Legal Elements

Patient abandonment is defined as a medical professional terminating a doctor-patient relationship, without providing alternative options, when a patient still requires significant care. To have a case of patient abandonment, California law mandates that you must be able to show your doctor breached the standard of care (that is, was negligent or committed malpractice) in a very specific way. While some states require a very complex showing, California’s requirements are simpler. Patient abandonment does constitute medical negligence if it can be proved, but there are only two elements of proof, while in other states there may be as many as five.

A plaintiff must be able to establish, first, that the doctor did indeed terminate the relationship. This is generally determined by looking at whether a reasonable person would consider the relationship terminated. For example, if the doctor returns any relevant records or deletes the patient’s information from their computer system, those are actions leading most people to believe that the doctor-patient relationship had been severed.

The second requirement for establishing a prima facie cause of action for patient abandonment is that the patient must be able to show the doctor, when terminating the relationship, did not give them any notice or alternative recommendations. It is a doctor’s duty to provide competent medical care under the law, and if they cease to do so without providing other alternatives to the patient, they have breached that duty.

When Cessation of Care is not Abandonment

Despite the prevalence of patient abandonments, there are many situations in which a doctor can cease care and not be ruled to have abandoned the patient. Generally, if a doctor can still be shown to have abided by the prevailing standard of care, they will not be held to have abandoned their patient. Examples of this include:

  • If a patient’s condition evolves to be outside the doctor’s area of expertise, a doctor must terminate the relationship. To practice medicine in an area where a doctor lacks confidence is, at the very least, an ethical violation;
  • A doctor may lack the equipment or ability to successfully treat a patient. This is more common in rural or impoverished areas;
  • The patient may violate policies the doctor established at the beginning of their relationship. For example, a person in pain management is often prohibited from going to another doctor for pain relief, to minimize the risk of drug abuse. If a patient breaches this rule, the doctor may end the relationship; and
  • Any other instance in which to continue treatment would violate either the physician’s ethics code or the general duty of care.
Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you believe you have been abandoned by your doctor, it is best to consult a knowledgeable legal professional to determine your next steps. The skilled San Jose medical malpractice lawyers at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. are happy to answer your questions, and can help you decide what path you can pursue that will result in the best outcome for you. Call us today at (408) 289-1417 or fill out our web form to set up a free consultation. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Santa Clara, San Benito, San Mateo, Alameda and Monterey.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.