Doctor sued over fatal crash by patient with dementia
Survivors of the driver’s boyfriend accuse the doctor of failing to report his patient so the DMV could take her license.
September 07, 2012|By Jessica Garrison and Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times
Nobody disputes that 85-year-old Lorraine Sullivan steered her Toyota Corolla into oncoming traffic, causing a crash that killed her longtime boyfriend, who was in the front passenger seat. But she is not the one in a Santa Ana courtroom this week facing a wrongful death lawsuit for the 2010 accident. Her doctor is. Dr. Arthur Daigneault, who practices near the retirement community of Laguna Woods Village and caters to the elderly, is being sued by the family of William Powers. The internist had been treating Sullivan for dementia in the two years before the crash. At issue is whether he should have initiated a process to take away her driver’s license — and whether by not doing so he bears some responsibility for the death.
The case casts a spotlight on a problem that will grow more common as the population ages and doctors see more dementia and other conditions related to old age, such as slowed reflexes, lack of alertness and diseases that can trigger lapses of consciousness. At what point do doctors have a responsibility to notify authorities that their patients may pose a threat on the road? READ MORE
I’d actually been thinking about topic for the past couple of months. Mainly because I’m the paranoid type of person who always thinks about things like dying and getting old and become infirm. But also because back in July I was able to renew my Drivers License online. This was the first year that I was given the option of renewing it online without the need to go to the DMV and apply in person and retake the vision test. All I had to do was pay $36, which I was able to do online and a few weeks later, there’s my new license in the mail. It’s weird because, on the one hand, I’ve very glad I was able to do it like this since it’s so much easier and I don’t have to go down to the DMV (which, as we all know, totally sucks). But, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but think, it’s been 5 years since I last renewed my license, shouldn’t I have to go in person? This is a huge responsibility. Every time I get behind the wheel of a car, I’m potentially putting myself and many others at risk.
Sure, I know that I’m fine, and that nothing has changed since my last renewal, but how do they know that? There’s a little box on the online form that asks if you’ve had any vision impairments or something since that last time you renewed your license, and I clicked on NO, because that’s the truth. But what if I was lying? What if I just clicked NO because it was more convenient for me to skip the DMV? How many other people who were given this same option as I was, and did just that? I see bad drivers all the time. All ages, all ages, both genders. I see folks talking on the phone, texting, and eating while they’re driving. People need to take this more seriously.
But I’ve also often thought about getting old. I mean, just in general, but also specifically as it pertains to driving. I recall reading a news story years ago about an old man who drove into a street market, and killed and injured a bunch of folks. Apparently, he got confused, and slammed on the ignition instead of the brakes. Obviously, it was a tragedy for those who were killed, but I couldn’t help feeling bad for the old man, too. He didn’t mean to do it. And I never want to be in that position.
I hate having to be dependent on others, and driving, in a way, represents mobility and freedom. I’ll hate to face the time when I’m unable to do that anymore (presuming that I live that long). I wonder, will I be able to tell when it’s time to give up driving, and will I figure out in time? I assume that for most folks it’s a gradual thing, like every other aspect of declining health, as you get older. Everything slowly starts to get worse. Like, I could be a certain age and take a driving renewal test and pass it, but then two or three months later I’m not as sharp mentally or physically as I used to be, and now I shouldn’t be driving, but it’s still another year or more before I have to take the test again (I think you have to take it once a year @ a certain age, instead of 5 years, but I’m not sure). So I could be out there on the road, without anyone checking to see if I’m able. So, @ that point, it would be up to be to voluntarily step down, unless someone else around me can force the issue. And I know that because I don’t want to give it up, it’s likely I’ll try to put it off as long as I can get away with it, which may be too late.
So, regarding the above case, I think I agree with the plaintiffs. If the doctor knew this woman was suffering from dementia, and knew that she was driving, he should have been required to alert the proper authorities, to get her license revoked. If there is no law about that now, then I guess the doctor should get off, but then they should make a law like this, to keep this from happening again.
Just my opinion.