Burns White attorneys Dan Margonari and Dave Johnson won preliminary objections on behalf of a Methadone Clinic in a case filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County. The dismissal was then successfully defended on Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration.
The action arose from a vehicle-pedestrian accident which occurred on December 24, 2016 when Plaintiff was struck by a vehicle operated by a patient of the defendant Methadone Clinic. The accident was a hit and run and resulted in Plaintiff’s death. In addition to suing the driver, Plaintiff brought allegations of negligence against the Methadone Clinic. Plaintiff’s complaint asserted that the methadone taken by the driver was negligently prescribed and contributed to the accident.
In Preliminary Objections, Margonari argued that a medical provider, such as a Methadone Clinic, does not owe a duty to unknown third parties who are injured as a result of the acts of its patients. Further, Margonari argued that public policy dictates against the creation of such a duty.
The court ultimately issued two opinions in support of the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against the Methadone Clinic as well as the cross-claim filed by the driver. In its initial opinion, granting the Methadone Clinic’s preliminary objections, the court found that medical providers have only been held to owe duties to third parties in rare and inapplicable situations, i.e., the duty of a psychiatrist to warn an intended victim of a threat of imminent violence made by a patient and the duty of a physician to warn patients and third parties with regard to communicable diseases. The second opinion, denying reconsideration of the dismissal, further explained that public policy dictates against the creation of a duty in these circumstances. The court found that imposing a duty on methadone clinics to any third party impacted or injured by any patient would have a serious effect on their ability to provide affordable medical services.