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Doctor Not Liable for Dementia Patient’s Collision


September 7, 2012–Santa Ana, CA–According to the Los Angeles Times, an Orange County doctor was determined to have no responsibility for a car crash caused by an 85-year-old patient he had been treating for dementia.

Dr. Arthur Daigneault certified that his patient, Lorraine Sullivan, was medically fit to drive. Sullivan later turned into oncoming traffic and killed a passenger in her car, William Powers. Powers’s family filed a lawsuit claiming that the doctor was liable for wrongful death due to the fact that he had been treating her for dementia. However, a judge ruled that Daigneault was not liable and had followed the proper procedures for certifying Sullivan’s driving abilities.
My sincere condolences go out to the family of the victim lost in this tragic accident.
California Law Regarding Dementia and Drivers
According to Section 103900 of the California Health & Safety Code, physicians are required to submit a report to the health department of a patient’s county of residence if the individual has a disease featuring dementia severe enough to impair driving ability. The test for physicians is general whether dementia can be judged moderate to severe. If so, the doctor is required to report and the individual’s license will be suspended by the DMV. If the physician feels the dementia is only mild, however, the doctor is not required to report to the county and the patient may continue to drive.

How Could The Doctor Have Been Held Liable In This Case?

Because doctors are required to report moderate to severe dementia to the proper licensing authorities, it is reasonable to think that there may have been grounds for a liability case against the physician. If it had indeed been shown that the doctor should have notified authorities that the patient was unfit to drive, this physician could have faced serious liability problems in the accident. However, the case was decided in favor of the doctor, meaning that the judge found no evidence the patient had anything more than mild dementia.

What Should I Do If I Feel A Loved One Should Not Drive?

The lesson to be taken from this terrible car accident is that we should all speak out if we feel that loved ones cannot drive safely. A talk with the loved one first is in order; however, if you feel you are not being heard, there are steps you can take to help your loved one stay safe.

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