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Physicians, Don't borrow trouble, Part II

by Joe Horn

Last time (Part I) we discussed:

  • the Risk Management issues involved in counseling patients about firearms home safety, and

  • the liability issues involved with lack of certification and training of Physicians in Home Safety or Firearms Safety.

Now we'll discuss:

  • the very serious issues involving the lawful possession and use of firearms in the home, and
  • the danger and liabilities associated with advising patients to severely encumber the firearm(s) with locked storage, or advising the patient to remove them entirely.

Patient X is told by Doctor Y to remove or lock up a firearm so it is not accessible. Patient X, does as counseled and has no firearm available at closehand. Subsequently, patient is then the victim of a home invasion and calls 911, but the police are buried in calls and don't arrive for 20 minutes during which time Patient X is raped, robbed and murdered. Anyone can see the liability issue here, particularly Risk Management specialists and liability insurance carriers.

It's just a matter of when and not if this will happen, God forbid, but it will - if a home invasion takes place and Patient X takes Doctor Y's advice.

Now, imagine what follows this horrendous event. Who is to blame? The perpetrator is long gone, and even so, the Plaintiff's litigator will state that the perpetrator could have been neutralized by the appropriate defensive use of a firearm, which was no longer available to the deceased/injured because he/she followed a Physician's advice to render him/herself defenseless against violent crime.

The Litigator will further argue that the Physician Knew, Could have known, Should have known that removing a firearm from use for home defense would result in harm to the patient if and when a crime was committed against the patient in the home.

Physicians are already under incredible pressure from Liability and Malpractice carriers to limit their exposure, and Malpractice rates are staggeringly high. So, why borrow trouble?

If one acknowledges the already dangerous general liability of home safety counseling and then adds the very risky practice of advising patients to disarm themselves in the face of the reality of violent crime daily perpetrated against home owners and apartment tenants, it is apparent that the Physician is placing him/herself in a very risky position for suit.

It is my strong recommendation to Malpractice Carriers and those Physicians they insure to strictly avoid this high risk practice and reserve counseling for the area of expertise in which they are certified: Medicine. In my professional opinion, this is an emotionally charged political issue that Physicians and their Carriers should not be manipulated for whatever well-intentioned reason into taking the risk, which is considerable......

Physicians in doubt of the veracity of what I've said are encouraged to call their carriers and ask them what they currently cover, and to ask if this new counseling policy is covered under the existing policy. We already know what they will say: Don't borrow trouble.


Joe Horn, Sixth Mesa Risk Management, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Retired. (c) 2000 Permission is granted to reproduce this article if left intact and complete. crowtalk@theriver.com

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