Physicians who perform medical examinations for employers often question the extent to which they must inform the employee of the findings of their examinations. Recently, a New York appellate court confirmed that there is no legal duty to disclose the results of the examination to the individual, even when the consequences may be severe.
In Kingsley v. Price et al., decided on July 6, 2018, an employee was required to go through periodic medical examinations to determine whether he had an occupation-induced disease. He was sent for a chest x-ray, which indicated an abnormal mass in his lungs and included a recommendation for a CT scan to further define it. The report was then sent to the employer, who determined the condition was not work related, and, thus, no action was taken. The condition, however, was metastatic lung cancer, and by the time the employee sought the results from his employer, the cancer had already advanced. The employee ultimately died from the cancer, but before his death, he sued the providers that performed and read the x-ray and reported the findings.
The issue before the court was whether the providers had a duty to inform the decedent or his personal physician of the mass in his lungs that had been detected on the x-ray. The court noted there was no professional negligence in reading the x-ray, and there was nothing in the record indicating the decedent had a primary care physician. Furthermore, the consent form executed by the decedent specifically stated that he understood the examination was for the purpose of his employment, that it was not intended to detected all underlying health conditions, and that it did not replace medical care provided by a personal physician. The consent also stated that all results would be reported to the employer.
Although the occupational medicine practice admitted it “ethically” should have followed up with the decedent and had a protocol to contact examinees about any abnormalities, the court declined to impose a legal duty to do so. The court emphasized that it was important to place limits on a medical provider’s exposure to tort liability to potential plaintiffs, and ultimately determined the providers appropriately fulfilled their duties, dismissing the complaint.
It is significant that, in reaching its decision, the court relied on the consent documentation explaining the limited scope of the medical examination. Occupational health providers would be well advised to review their consent forms and ensure the language clearly conveys the restrictions surrounding the medical examination and disclosure of the results. It is critical to document the examinee’s understanding that an employment examination is not medical treatment, is done at the behest of the employer, and does not supplant medical advice and treatment by a personal physician. Complete documentation will help insulate the provider from professional liability.
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