Minnesota Medical Malpractice

Legal Outline

Duty analysis

Like any lawsuit based on negligence, “the existence of a duty running from the defendant to the plaintiff is a prerequisite to a finding of malpractice liability.” Warren v. Dinter, 926 N.W.2d 370 (Minn. 2019) quoting Molloy v. Meier, 679 N.W.2d 711, 717 (Minn. 2004).

When there is a physician-patient relationship, a duty of due care is owed to the patient. Smits v. Park Nicollet Health Servs., A20-0711 (Minn. Sept. 7, 2022). “Once a physician undertakes to treat a patient, that physician owes the patient a duty to act with the required standard of skill and care.” Id. quoting Becker v. Mayo, 737 N.W.2d 200, 216 (Minn. 2007).

But healthcare providers also owe a duty of care to third-parties when harm is foreseeable from a departure from accepted standards of care. Warren, 926 N.W.2d at 377 (“Therefore, for 100 years in Minnesota, a physician has had a legal duty of care based on the foreseeablity of harm.”) While most medical malpractice lawsuits in Minnesota involve a patient-physician relationship, a duty owed to third-parties has been found in cases where:

  • a hospitalist declined hospital admission to a sick patient by communicating through the patient’s treating nurse practitioner, Warren;
  • a physician failed to communicate risks of genetic disease to parents prior to them conceiving another child, Molloy;
  • a physician failed to advise family members of their own risk of infection from a sick family member, Skillings v. Allen, 173 N.W. 663 (Minn. 1919);
  • a psychiatrist acts to assist a mentally-ill patient in gaining access to guns prior to a violent and random shooting event, Lundgren v. Fultz, 354 N.W.2d 25 (Minn. 1984); among others.

There are other examples in which Minnesota courts have recognized a healthcare provider’s duty to third-parties, and there are many arguments attempting to limit the scope of the healthcare provider’s duty that have been rejected. The operative test is whether the foreseeability of the harm resulting from the malpractice is a close enough question to be decided by the factfinder. Warren, 926 N.W.2d at 378 (Minn. 2019) quoting Domagala v. Rolland, 805 N.W.2d 14, 27 (Minn. 2011).