A duty arises when the relationship between individuals, the asserted plaintiff and defendant, is such as to impose upon the latter a legal obligation for the benefit of the former. While a court might impose a legal duty where none existed before, such an imposition must be exercised with extreme care. In the absence of duty, there is no breach and therefore no liability.
Plaintiff claimants brought an negligence action against defendant physician for his allegedly negligent diagnosis and treatment of a patient who consequently suffered kidney failure and required a kidney transplant. One of the causes of action in the complaint was an allegation that defendant physician was liable to the patient's son, who was the kidney donor. The court below dismissed that cause of action. On appeal, the claimants alleged that the rescue doctrine applied to a son who donated a kidney to his father after the father suffered kidney failure that allegedly was caused by the negligence and malpractice of the defendant.
Does the rescue doctrine apply to the case?
The court declined to extend the rescue doctrine so far beyond the exigencies of an emergency situation to a time long after defendant's alleged negligent acts. The court affirmed the order granting the physician's motion to dismiss because he owed no duty to the son. In order to establish the existence of such duty, a defendant had to foresee that his negligence could cause injury to his patient and to the patient's son as well. Under the facts of the case, the court determined that there was only one legal conclusion to be drawn, that the injury to the son was not foreseeable, and that the question of legal cause was properly decided as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the dismissal.