An Orange County jury ruled on Thursday that a doctor who believed his 85-year-old patient’s dementia condition not to interfere with her driving abilities, was not responsible for her fatal 2010 car accident.
Doctor Arthur Daigneault was sued for wrongful death after his dementia patient Lorianne Sullivan was driving with 90-year-old passenger and longtime partner William Powers, and turned their Toyota into fast-moving traffic. The car crashed and Powers died 6 weeks later from injuries related to the crash.
California law requires physicians to notify authorities if they deem their patient’s condition to put them at risk while driving. The law allows doctors to use clinical judgement, and Doctor Daigneault who had been seeing Sullivan for two years saw no evidence that his patient exhibited the “lapses of consciousness” that he needed to look for for when making his decision.
Daigneault’s lawyer argued that there was no proof that Sullivan’s dementia was a contributing factor in the accident, or that the Department of Motor Vehicles would have revoked her license if he had in fact reported her. Daigneault even stated that Sullivan’s condition was so mild that she was able to hide it from her family.
The jury deliberated for only 30 minutes before deciding that Daigneault did not stray from standards of care or state law. Craig Powers, the victim’s son, is disappointed in the decision but pleased that the case got attention. Powers forced their 90-year-old father to stop driving in early 2010 but did not express any concern about Sullivan, according to court filings. He hopes that it will change the reporting law to give reporting doctors less leeway.