Informed Consent Not Needed During Emergency

By Michael Zerres

Normal Consent Rules Do Not Apply to Life-Threatening Situations

In the recent decision of Liguori v. Hunter and others, decided July 24, 2006 (Docket #: A-1819-04T5), the Appellate Division ruled that, in the case of a life-threatening emergency, the normal need to obtain a patient’s “informed consent” does not apply. Here, the 71 year old patient underwent successful quadruple bypass surgery. Following the surgery, Mrs. Liguori developed a collapsed lung. Since the surgeon was already in the middle of another bypass operation, he sent in a fellow [physician in training] to insert a chest tube to reinflate the lung. Unfortunately, without obtaining anyone’s consent, the fellow, Dr. Hunter, inserted the tube into the woman’s left ventricle, causing a cascade of events resulting in the her death. The Court rejected plaintiff’s claim that their informed consent count should not have been dismissed during the trial, as the collapsed lung was a genuine emergency, and because Dr. Hunter did not have time to speak to the family, the normal need to obtain the consent of the patient or family, and advise of the risks of the benefits of the procedure, and/or allow the patient/family to choose another doctor to perform the procedure, did not apply.

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