The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that a doctor may, in some circumstances, be liable for a patient’s auto accident if the plaintiff can prove that he failed to adequately warn his patient about the risks of driving under medication. (Coombes v. Florio; Childs; Klein blog; update: also Liz Kowalczyk, “SJC ruling adds to doctor liability”, Boston Globe, Dec. 11 via Childs).
The obvious dynamic result from this gigantic expansion of liability, unnoted by the majority: doctors will simply overwarn, and tell all of their patients not to drive. (After all, patients can’t sue their doctors for the damages caused by their being unable to drive.) Some patients will routinely ignore the advice because they won’t be able to distinguish the legitimate warnings from the defensive warnings; other patients will stop taking medication that they should be taking because of the additional unnecessary personal costs; still other patients who could have driven safely will impose huge costs because they obey the defensive warning. None of these indirect expenses caused by the expansion of liability will be measured in accounts of the costs of the tort system.