Read What You Sign. Except Doctors.
One of the first bits of free advice you’ll get from an attorney, is to read and understand before you sign a document. Even where the clause is buried on page 8 of fine print; or where there was a change from an earlier draft; or where the person was told something different; or where the person was subject to high-pressure sales tactics; or even where the person couldn’t read or write; under North Carolina law you are found to have read and understood the entire document. However, in a recent case, the North Carolina Court of Appeals found that did not apply to a doctor.
The case involved a surgery patient who had developed complications. As a result, his doctor gave him a prescription for Total Parenteral Nutrition, but the prescription was missing a vital nutrient, which caused the patient to develop a permanent disability. The prescriptions are required to be signed by a doctor under federal law; however, the doctor in this case signed at least 49 prescriptions prepared by a dietician without ever having read any of them. The doctor’s expert witnesses testified that the standard of care did not require the doctor to actually read the prescriptions he was signing. The jury agreed and the doctor was found not negligent. The Court of Appeals let the decision by the jury stand although indicated they were “disturbed by the assertion that as a matter of practice and standard of care, doctors need not read what they are required by law to sign.
The general advice to read before signing is still the rule for 99.9% of the population and circumstances, although the next time you are given a prescription, you might want to bring up the question to your doctor.
-Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who practices in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes, and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.