A previous post noted a negligent vasectomy case that had been decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Now the Court of Appeals of Maryland has issued an opinion in the same case, but on a different issue. The Court held that a wife does not have an independent cause of action against a physician who is negligent in performing a vasectomy on her husband, where the wife had no relationship or direct interaction with the physician. The husband had been barred from recovery from the physician due to his own contributory negligence in failing to seek a sperm count after the vasectomy. The wife's claim was held to be a derivative one which fell with the husband's. On appeal, the wife argued that she should be allowed to pursue an independent claim.
The Court of Appeals held that because the physician owed no duty to the wife, who never even met the physician until the day of trial, she could not maintain an independent cause of action.
Significantly, the defendant physician in this matter was not the urologist who performed the vasectomy, but was a physician who saw the husband on an unrelated matter. The husband alleged that he asked the physician for a referral to get a sperm count done, and that the physician talked him out of it.
The Court reasoned in part that:
Nor are we willing to impose a legal duty on Dr. Edgecombe with regard to Mrs. Dehn based simply on his alleged awareness that Mr. Dehn was married. A duty of care does not accrue purely by virtue of the marital status of the patient alone; some greater relational nexus between doctor and patient’s spouse must be established, if it can be established at all, and here it was not. A duty of care to a non -patient is not one which Maryland law is prepared to recognize under these circumstances. The imposition of a common law duty upon Dr. Edgecombe to the wife under these circumstances could expand traditional tort concepts beyond manageable bounds. The rationale for extending the duty would apply to all potential sexual partners and expand the universe of potential plaintiffs. All of the above rationales for extending the duty of care apply with equal force to a non-spouse: Unmarried as well as married couples are bound by law to provide for their children, and the physical consequences of childbirth from a negligent vasectomy remain the same regardless of whether the mother is married or not.