Duty to a Third Party • Physician-Patient Relationship • Statutes of Limitation and Repose

Matharu v. Muir, PICS Case No. 14-0265 (Pa. Super. Feb. 21, 2014) Donohue, J. (31 pages).

Where physicians failed to administer medication to a mother led to health complications and death of a child in a later pregnancy, the physicians’ failure occurred in the context of the physician-patient relationship with the mother and the physicians owed a third-party duty to the mother’s future unborn children; and where wrongful death actions are described in a separate sub-statute containing a statute of limitation, it is not subject to the general statute of repose governing medical malpractice actions. Affirmed.

Plaintiffs Baljinder and Jessica Matharu brought the instant wrongful death action stemming from the death of their son, Milan, due to complications during pregnancy. Plaintiffs allege that defendants, who were Jessica’s physicians during a prior pregnancy, failed to administer RhoGAM, which caused Jessica to become Rh sensitized and which increased the risk of complications in her subsequent pregnancies.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they owed no third-party duty to Milan, and that plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred under the statute of repose in the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act. After defendants’ motion was denied, the appeal was brought to the court.

Under §324A of the Second Restatement of Torts, a physician is liable to a third person for negligent performance where he should recognize his services as necessary for the protection of a third person. The court noted prior case law regarding physicians’ duty to third party in Seebold v. Prison Health Services, where after prison physicians failed to warn guards of a MRSA infection among inmates, the court held that physicians did not owe a duty to third-parties to take affirmative measures outside of the physician-patient relationship.

The court held that in this case, because the alleged negligence was defendants’ failure to administer RhoGAM, which was within the confines of the physician-patient relationship between Jessica and defendants; moreover, such an action would only be for the benefit of future unborn children. Accordingly, the limitation in Seebold did not apply.

The instant court further held that the plaintiffs’ action was not time-barred by MCARE. Although MCARE has a seven year statute of repose, the statute also contains a subsection relating to wrongful death actions with a statute of limitations of two years. The court resolved this ambiguity by finding that the wrongful death subsection set forth a different limitation, reasoning that imposing a two-year statute of limitations followed by a seven-year statute of repose would render the statute of limitations irrelevant.