Ritchie v. Krasner (4/21/2009)

May 1, 2009

Arizona Court ofAppeals Division One Holds That Even Absent a Formal Doctor-Patient Relationship, a Doctor Conducting an Independent Medical Examination Owes a Duty of Reasonable Care to His or Her Patient.

In April 2000, Jeremy Ritchie injured his back and his worker’s compensation carrier retained Defendant Scott Krasner to perform an independent medical examination (“IME”) on him.  Prior to the IME, Ritchie signed a notice stating “no Doctor/Patient relationship exists between you and Dr. Krasner.”  After conducting the IME, Krasner concluded that Ritchie was not seriously injured.  Ritchie’s condition, however, deteriorated, until he had back surgery.  In the eight months before he had surgery, an undiagnosed spinal cord compression caused spinal cord deterioration, resulting in “central pain syndrome.”  He was prescribed narcotic painkillers for that condition.  In 2002, he filed a complaint for medical malpractice against various defendants, including Krasner.  Ritchie died of an accidental overdose in 2002, after which his relatives took over as Plaintiffs and added a claim for wrongful death.  A jury awarded Plaintiffs $5 million and assigned 28.5% of the fault to Krasner.  Krasner timely appealed.     

The ArizonaAppeals Court affirmed.  Citing Stanley v. McCarver, 208 Ariz. 219, 92 P.3d 849 (2004), the Court explained that a duty may arise even in the absence of a formal relationship, and listed the factors courts consider in determining whether a duty exists.  The court explained that, like in Stanley, Krasner agreed to examine Ritchie and report on his condition, and Ritchie relied on that report, and thus concluded that a doctor conducting an IME, such as Krasner, must “conform to the legal standard of reasonable conduct in light of the apparent risk” which in Krasner’s case included “ a duty to conform to the legal standard of care for one with his skill, training, and knowledge.”  Id. at 224, ¶ 16, 92 P.3d at 854.  The Court also explained that the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 342A (1965) supported the existence of duty because Krasner rendered services to Ritchie on behalf of his worker’s compensation carrier, and Ritchie relied on Krasner’s findings.  The Court further found that public policy favored the existence of a duty.  

Krasner also raised a number of secondary issues, claiming that: (1) the trial court should have allowed the jury to see the disclaimer signed by Ritchie on a limitation of liability defense; (2) the jury erred by finding that Krasner was partially the proximate cause of Ritchie’s injury, by improperly apportioning fault, and by awarding an excessive verdict; (3) the trial court erred by failing to give jury instructions on intervening/superseding cause; (4) the trial court erred in several evidentiary rulings; (5) Plaintiffs engaged in misconduct by asking the jury to apportion no blame to one of the defendants; (6) Plaintiffs’ claim was barred by the statute of limitations for malpractice actions; (7) Krasner was entitled to absolute immunity as a “witness”; and (8) Maricopa County’s jury selection process is unconstitutional because the panel was not selected on a county-wide basis.  The Court rejected all of these arguments. 

Judge Irvine authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Orozco and Judge Swann concurred.