§47.20 Duty of Psychiatrist to Prevent Injury by Patients to Others

The Case: Amos v. Vanderbilt University , 62 S.W.3d 133 (Tenn. 2001).

The Basic Facts: A patient who became infected with HIV as a result of a blood transfusion during surgery and her husband sued the hospital at which the surgery was performed for wrongful birth of their daughter, negligent failure to warn of the risk for contracting HIV, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Mr. and Mrs. Amos were not yet married when Mrs. Amos received her blood transfusion or when, according to the Amoses' experts, Vanderbilt should have notified prior blood transfusion recipients. Vanderbilt therefore contends that it owed no duty to Mr. Amos." 62 S.W.3d at 138.
  • "This Court has recognized that a physician may owe a duty to a non-patient third party if the physician's negligence causes reasonably foreseeable injuries to the third party. Bradshaw v. Daniel, 854 S.W.2d 865, 870 (Tenn. 1993) (citing Wharton Transport Corp. v. Bridges, 606 S.W.2d 521, 526 (Tenn. 1980)). As we noted in Bradshaw, other jurisdictions have imposed upon physicians the duty to exercise reasonable care to protect third persons against foreseeable risks associated with a patient's contagious disease. Id. at 871; see also Vallery v. S. Baptist Hosp., 630 So. 2d 861, 868‑69 (La. Ct. App. 1993) (court imposed a duty on behalf of a hospital to promptly warn an employee's spouse of the employee's negligent exposure to HIV because it was 'highly foreseeable' that the employee might be married and have unprotected sexual relations with his spouse). We adopted a similar medical duty to warn identifiable third persons in a patient's immediate family against foreseeable risks attending that patient's noncommunicable disease. Bradshaw, 854 S.W.2d at 872." Id.
  • "'The foreseeable victim is one who is said to be within the zone of danger.' Turner v. Jordan, 957 S.W.2d 815, 819 (Tenn. 1997) (quoting Hamman v. County of Maricopa, 775 P.2d 1122, 1128 (Ariz. 1989)). Unlike Bradshaw, we are faced here with the risk of exposure to a deadly communicable disease. The zone of danger in this case, therefore, is much larger than the zone of danger in Bradshaw. As a result, the identifiable third parties may be extended beyond the patient's immediate family members. 'The imposition of a legal duty reflects society's contemporary policies and social requirements concerning the right of individuals and the general public to be protected from another's act or conduct.' Id. at 870. It was reasonably foreseeable that Mrs. Amos would one day marry and have a family. Her future husband and daughter were within the class of identifiable third persons at risk for exposure to HIV. Cf. Turner, 957 S.W.2d at 820-21 (imposing a duty on a psychiatrist to take reasonable measures to protect a nurse in the psychiatric unit from the injuries she sustained at the hands of a dangerous patient); Wharton Transport Corp., 606 S.W.2d at 527 (injuries caused when truck collided into rear of family's station wagon were reasonably foreseeable consequence of physician's failure to properly conduct physical examination of truck driver).

    The duty contemplated here is not one to warn Mr. Amos himself of Mrs. Amos's exposure to HIV but to warn Mrs. Amos so that she might take adequate precautions to prevent transmission of the disease to Mr. Amos and their child.FN5 Vanderbilt's breach of that duty caused the reasonably foreseeable injuries suffered by Mr. Amos. We therefore reinstate the trial court's award of damages to Mr. Amos.
    FN5 Unlike the patient with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Bradshaw, a patient with HIV may take precautions to avoid transmitting the disease to others. It therefore is reasonable to require physicians to warn patients exposed to HIV of the potential dangers in order to protect third parties."
    Id .

Other Sources of Note: Isabel v. Velsicol Chemical Co. , 327 F.Supp.2d 915, 920 (W.D. Tenn. 2004) (holding that a clam for negligent infliction of emotional distress should be allowed in cases where the defendant's negligence results in the plaintiff ingesting an indefinite amount of a harmful substance because in such cases, the finder of fact may conclude that the plaintiff has sustained a sufficient physical injury to support an award of damages even if medical diagnosis fails to reveal any other physical injury); Laxton v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 639 S.W.2d 431 (Tenn. 1982) (holding that plaintiffs parents could recover for their concern and anxiety for welfare of themselves and their infant children after ingesting water contaminated by the defendant); Riley v. Whybrew, 185 S.W.3d 393, 401 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005) (holding the plaintiff's claim for damages for emotional distress was not a stand-alone claim and the Camper requirement of expert medical or scientific proof was not applicable when the defendant landlord negligently allowed his tenants' to engage in illegal activities).

Recent Cases:  Stewart v. Fakhruddin, No. M2009-02010-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 2134150 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 26, 2010) (analyzing immunity under Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-3-209 for professional who has satisfied duty under Tenn. Code Ann. § 33-3-206 from any cause of action for “not predicting, warning of, or taking precautions to provide protection from violent behavior” by patient and finding cause of action was not barred by immunity in statute).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

To schedule an appointment, contact us online or call us at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866-812-8787.



The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

Client Reviews
Everything was great. You guys are a great representative. I was satisfied with everything. Truly appreciate John Day and his hard-working staff.
★★★★★
We thought that you did an excellent job in representing us in our lawsuit. We would recommend you to anyone. Mitch Deese
★★★★★
The Law Offices of John Day is, without a doubt, the best in Nashville! They treated me with the utmost respect and tended to my every need. No question went unanswered. I was always kept informed of every step in the process. I received phenomenal results; I couldn't ask for more. I would definitely hire the Law Offices of John Day again. Anthony Santiago
★★★★★
I would definitely recommend to anyone to hire John Day's law firm because everyone was helpful, made everything clear and got the job done. I am satisfied with how my case was handled. June Keomahavong
★★★★★
It's been a long battle but this firm has been very efficient and has done a remarkable job for me! I highly recommend them to anyone needing legal assistance. Everyone has always been very kind and kept me informed of all actions promptly. Linda Bush
★★★★★
I had a great experience with the Law Offices of John Day. The staff was very accommodating, and my phone calls/emails were always responded to in a timely manner. They made the entire process very easy and stress-free for me, and I had confidence that my case was in good hands. I am very happy with the results, and I highly recommend! Casey Hutchinson
★★★★★