No claim for negligence can succeed in the absence of any one of the following elements: (1) a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) conduct falling below the applicable standard of care amounting to a breach of that duty; (3) an injury or loss; (4) causation in fact; and (5) proximate, or legal cause. The existence or nonexistence of a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant is entirely a question of law for the court. In determining the issue, a court should consider whether, upon the facts in evidence, such a relation exists between the parties that the community will impose a legal obligation upon one for the benefit of others -- or, more simply, whether the interest of the plaintiff which has suffered invasion was entitled to legal protection at the hands of the defendant. This is entirely a question of law to be determined by reference to the body of statutes, rules, principles and precedents which make up the law; and it must be determined only by the court. A decision by the court that, upon any version of the facts, there is no duty, must necessarily result in judgment for the defendant. A decision that if certain facts are found to be true, a duty exists, leaves open other questions concerning the existence of negligence.
The non-patient's husband had died from the disease. When the non-patient died from the disease only a few days after her husband, her son filed a suit against the husband's physician and alleged that his negligence in failing to advise the non-patient that her husband died of the disease, and in failing to warn her of the risk of exposure, proximately caused her death. Upon retrial of the case, the trial court denied the physician's motion for summary judgment but granted an interlocutory appeal on the issue of the physician's legal duty. The court of appeals refused to consider the physician's trial testimony in its determination of the substantive issue of legal duty. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case.
Did physician have a legal duty to warn a non-patient?
The court found that because there were no extraordinary circumstances that would have justified disregarding the physician's testimony, it would consider the entire record on appeal. The court held that the physician had a duty to warn his patient's wife of the risk to her of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, when he knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known, that his patient was suffering from the disease. The court remanded the case for further proceedings.