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A physician's duty arises only when a clear and direct physician-patient relationship has been established. Such a relationship cannot be established where a patient does not seek that physician's medical advice and the physician does not knowingly accept that person as a patient.
Plaintiffs, Dustin Kundert and Krista Grady, brought the present medical malpractice suit on behalf of their deceased child, Kameryn Kundert, and his estate against defendant, Illinois Valley Community Hospital. Plaintiffs alleged that the medical advice given via telephone from the hospital caused them to delay seeking medical treatment for their child, who later died. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing, inter alia, that, as a matter of law, no relationship existed between decedent and defendant. Defendant asserted that without such a legal relationship, it owed decedent no duty. The trial court agreed with defendant’s contention, and dismissed the action. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred when it held that no relationship existed between the decedent or the parents and the hospital sufficient to create a legal duty of care.
Under the circumstances, was there a relationship between the defendant and the decedent or the decedent’s parents sufficient to create a legal duty of care?
The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, holding that the actions of the person on the telephone did not evince a knowing acceptance of the child as the defendant’s patient. The court noted that the person on the telephone was not asked to perform any tests, interpret any results or examine the child. The circumstances surrounding the inquiry and response indicated that the person merely gave an informal opinion based upon rather common symptoms: the child's temperature, fussiness and refusal to eat or sleep. According to the court, public policy supported the trial court's decision, and case law made clear that the singular act of dispensing advice did not equate to knowing acceptance of a patient. The relevant inquiry was whether a patient knowingly sought a physician's services and the physician knowingly accepted the patient.