Disregarding a DNR Order: Could You Be Liable?

Health care providers are accustomed to defending lawsuits when they fail to prevent the death of a patient. But now, some providers are sued when they save a patient’s life — if they disregard advanced health care directives when doing so.

DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders and MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) directives instruct health care providers not to perform certain life-saving measures. These orders to limit or withhold medical treatment (such as CPR) are to be honored as specified. When they are not, health care providers risk becoming involved in a lawsuit.[1]

In one Maryland case, the family of an elderly patient sued after health care providers at a hospital resuscitated the patient and saved her life, despite her end-of-life requests specifying no resuscitation or CPR.[2] The hospital ultimately settled this lawsuit, which contained counts of negligence, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and informed consent.

Many issues relating to these types of cases are legally “unsettled.” What is clear, however, is that “wrongful life” cases are being filed in courts across the country.

Bottom Line: Health care providers may be held liable if they fail to follow a patient’s DNR or MOLST orders. To prevent this type of lawsuit, make sure your institution has training and procedures in place for handling DNR/MOLST orders.

If you have any questions about the failure to follow an advanced directive, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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[1] This is not always simple. Health care providers assume “full code” as the default. Further complicating matters, many terminally ill patients have not discussed code status with their health care team.

[2] Weisman v. Maryland General Hospital, Inc., No. 24-C-16-004199 (Md.Cir.Ct. July 25, 2016).

Anthony Breschi

Anthony Breschi

Anthony (Tony) Breschi is an AV-rated trial attorney and partner at Waranch & Brown, LLC. His practice focuses primarily on the defense of physicians and hospitals in medical malpractice cases. He has tried numerous medical malpractice cases at the trial level of Maryland and Federal Courts. He is also a member of the Bar of the District of Columbia and has tried cases in the Superior Court and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He has argued appeals before the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland Court of Special Appeals and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Mr. Breschi has also represented physicians before the Maryland Board of Physicians and in credentialing matters.