Close Menu

Medical Malpractice in California: A Medical Professional’s Liability for the Failure to Report Child Abuse

According to a journal article published by the AMA Journal of Ethics: Health Law, medical professionals are obligated by legal and ethical standards to uphold patient confidentiality. This requirement, however, is not absolute. A patient’s medical record discretion could be breached (ethically) if there is a safety concern over the patient, if there is a recognizable outside party that could be at risk, or if the law requires it.

Mandating that doctors breach patient confidentiality can force doctors to act as representatives of the state, as opposed to representing the patient alone. When a doctor is in a reporting role, he or she can be seen to act on behalf of outside parties or the overall general public. There are multiple legal exceptions to upholding patient confidentiality. Some of these legal exceptions are state-imposed laws; others come as a result of a court-based decision. For the most part, doctors are obligated to report any spreadable diseases as well as report suspected acts of violence like domestic abuse or even gunshot injuries. Some reporting has the potential to help patients directly.   In fact, failing to report an incident could result in legal action brought against the physician in question and on behalf of the person who alleged the harm.

Many child maltreatment-reporting laws serve the general public to reduce the occurrence of violence, which could protect the population. In order to comply, doctors are required to report any suspected violence or abuse to local law enforcement agencies. Regrettably, there are cases where a child is the victim of abuse and his or her medical caregiver fails to report the abuse to any adequate law authorities, and these cases may be actionable.

California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (Penal Code Sections 11164-11174.3)

Children are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society today. Depending on their state of being, whether they are too young, or whether they have a debilitating condition that prohibits them from communicating, these vulnerable victims rely on adults around them to care for their wellbeing. California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act was enacted in effort of protecting vulnerable children. When there is an investigation of a suspected child abuse case, those participating in the investigation need to consider the needs of the minor and do what is necessary to prevent further harm.

According to this act, the following medical care providers are considered as mandated reporters:

  • Surgeons and medical doctors
  • Clinical social workers
  • Physicians
  • Psychiatrists and counselors
  • Psychologists
  • Dentists
  • Interns
  • Residents
  • Chiropractors
  • Podiatrists
  • Dental hygienists
  • Licensed nurses
  • Optometrists
  • Marriage or family therapists

(For a more comprehensive list, visit California’s Legislative Information website.)

File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for a Failure to Report Child Abuse

For a medical professional to fail to report suspected child abuse, the inaction is not only unethical it is also illegal. If you know a child who has suffered further abuse or neglect after reporting should have taken place, consider speaking to a qualified attorney who can help you understand if there are grounds for a lawsuit.

The attorneys at Heiting & Irwin are highly experienced in the field of medical malpractice lawsuits in the State of California. The firm is dedicated in preserving the rights of victims who have suffered at the hands of negligent parties. Medical malpractice cases in California are subject to time restrictions; contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn