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Los Angeles Doctor Cleared of Wrongdoing in Wrongful Death Suit

Recently, a Los Angeles jury acquitted a local doctor of responsibility for the wrongful death of a passenger in a vehicle driven by a patient suffering from dementia. The jury found that the physician was not responsible for failing to notify the local health authorities of his patient's dementia or to recommend that the patient's driver's license be revoked.

The case stems from a fatal car accident where an 85-year-old woman suffering from dementia drove into oncoming traffic when attempting to turn at an intersection. The woman survived, but her passenger, a 90-year old man, died of his injuries. The man's family sued the doctor for wrongful death, but the doctor told the jury that he had been involved in the revocation of the licenses of other dementia patients, and he did not believe that the woman's case was severe enough to warrant this measure.

Statistics from the Department of Highway Safety show that older drivers are more at risk than younger drivers for being involved in a multi-car crash, particularly when turning at intersections. Drivers over the age of 80 have the second highest incidence of fatal car accidents of any age group, second only to teenage drivers. Despite this, only a small number of states, including California, require that doctors report cases of dementia to the department of motor vehicles. Many states do not even require that older drivers complete a vision test.

Being involved in a car crash or having a loved one or family member involved in one is always a very traumatic experience. In addition to the emotional strain, the financial burdens imposed by an accident can be tremendous. When negligence causes the wrongful death of a loved one, members of the victim's family should know that they may be legally entitled to compensation for their losses.

Source: NBC News, "Elderly Drivers and Fatal Accidents: Is the Doctor Responsible?" Art Caplan, September 10, 2012

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