Ethics Quiz!

What would you do in this case? And better yet, what should you do? And why might the two answers be different?

First, an important note. This is a hypothetical case. It has never happened in any hospital I’ve worked in, and I have not heard of it happening in one. I have completely fabricated it to make a point.

An elderly man is walking to the store in his neighborhood, and he is assaulted and knocked to the ground by a young man. Witnesses restrain the assailant, and police arrive to take him away to jail, while prehospital providers arrive and transport the victim to the hospital. The assailant is charged with assault and released.

The victim has a facial fracture and a very small intraparenchymal hemorrhage. He is expected to be discharged the following day after a repeat CT scan. The fracture does not need treatment. However, while being monitored in the ICU, a medical error occurs and the patient dies.

The police re-arrest the assailant and charge him with manslaughter, which has a much stiffer jail sentence.

Do you (or your hospital) have a responsibility to let the police know that the new charge is not justified? Is there a potential opening for a civil suit against you (or your hospital)? Can you do anything given current privacy laws?

Tweet out your answer or leave comments below. I’m interested in comments from my legal colleagues, too. What would you do?

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