The relationship between physician and patient is a partnership when it is functioning properly. This is a partnership in which trust is a foundational and indispensable component. When a patient seeks medical care and treatment from a doctor, the patient is entitled to trust that the doctor is providing full disclosure, informing the patient of all of the pertinent risks and benefits to a particular course of treatment, as well as alternative courses of treatment – which may include no treatment at all – for a particular medical condition. This way, the patient can make an informed decision along with his or her doctor, and give informed consent to a course of medical treatment that may have both positive and negative effects upon the health of the patient. However, in all too many circumstances, a doctor or other medical provider does not provide the full disclosure to which the patient is entitled, and the patient agrees to undergo a course of medical care and treatment that the patient might not have opted for had full disclosure been provided.
When physicians breach the trust of their patient, fail to provide full disclosure to a patient, and harm the patient as a result, a species of medical malpractice claim known as “lack of informed consent” may accrue to the patient and entitle the patient to substantial compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These claims are often brought in tandem with medical malpractice claims involving a breach of the standard of care applicable to a particular course of medical treatment. In this article, we explain the basic legal elements of a claim for “lack of informed consent” under New York medical malpractice law, and hope to educate readers about their legal rights if a doctor does not fully disclose all of the information regarding a particular course of medical treatment that he or she is obligated to discuss with a patient before undertaking to render care and treatment that may be harmful or undesirable.