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Woman who claims assault by doctor must plead medical malpractice

In Steele v. St. Lawrence Hospital, et al., the plaintiff claimed that after she sought voluntary admission to the defendant's psychiatric unit, she was abused by a male physician, Ralph Michael Kelly, M.D.  Kelly, an Internal Medicine specialist, was consulted after Steele's admission because her doctor was concerned about high blood pressure.  Kelly could not remember the exam but testified it is his practice to perform a complete physical, including a breast examination, on all patients.  Steele claimed she did not want a breast exam, that her own doctor had performed one the month before, and that Steele's exam, when performed was "strange".  She also complained that no other woman was in the room during the exam.

Steele did not follow the procedural rules for malpractice claims.  She argued that claims of inappropriate touching are readily understandable by lay persons and are an intentional tort independent of any standard of care professional issues.  The trial court and Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court of Appeals held that the conduct of a medical examination represents the exercise of professional judgment and therefore a claimant must comply with the malpractice procedural rules.   In a separate concurrence, Judge William Murphy was careful to point out that in a different factual scenario, he believes a woman could establish a claim of extreme outrageous conduct so outside the parameters of a professional encounter that it would not require "malpractice" procedural compliance.

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