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Henkemeyer v. Boxall - 465 N.W.2d 437 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991)

Rule:

A physician is liable for malpractice only where there is a physician-patient relationship. When a claimant is examined adversely to determine eligibility for workers' compensation benefits, a physician-patient relationship does not arise and therefore no claim for medical malpractice exists. In the absence of a physician-patient relationship, the doctor's only duty is to conduct the examination so as to not cause harm to the patient.

Facts:

On Aug. 3, 1987, the decedent, Peter Jansky, was injured driving a truck for Brian Brix Excavating Company ("Brix"). Twenty months later, Brix and its workers' compensation carrier required Jansky to undergo an adverse medical examination to determine the extent of his injuries. Defendant Dr. David Boxall conducted an orthopedic evaluation of Jansky's spine, shoulder, and hip on April 27, 1989. At no time was Boxall retained by Jansky, his employer, or its workers' compensation carrier for any medical treatment. After obtaining Jansky's medical history, examining medical and hospital records, and reviewing X-rays he ordered, Boxall concluded Jansky's orthopedic problems were the same in April 1989 as they were before the August 1987 accident. Boxall made a report to that effect to the workers' compensation carrier on May 3, 1989. On May 6, 1989, Jansky died of an acutely expanding abdominal aortic aneurysm. Plaintiff Patricia Henkemeyer, as trustee for the heirs and next kin of Jansky, filed a negligence action against Boxall in Minnesota state court. The complaint alleged that Boxall failed to exercise the requisite care and skill of a physician by not identifying the aneurysm on the April 1989 X-ray and warning Jansky of its danger. Henkemeyer made an offer of proof that the aneurysm was clearly detectable on the X-ray. Boxall filed a motion dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, claiming no physician-patient relationship existed between Jansky and Boxall. The trial court treated the motion as one for summary judgment, granted the motion and dismissed the case. The trial court concluded Henkemeyer's claim of negligence against Boxall was barred as a matter of law because no physician-patient relationship existed. Henkemeyer appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Boxall based on the absence of a physician-patient relationship?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court held that because the facts of the case supported only an action for medical malpractice, a claim under ordinary negligence principles was unsustainable. When a claimant was examined adversely to determine eligibility for worker's compensation, a physician-patient relationship did not arise and therefore no claim for medical malpractice existed. No physician-patient relationship existed between Jansky and Boxall, and thus Henkemeyer's claim failed as a matter of law.

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