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Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Serious Liability


After shaving, a guest at the Ramada in Beverly Hills reached for a hairbrush and struck his nose on a clothes hook with enough force to bring tears to his eyes and blood to his nose. He noticed that the hook had been installed at nose level -- clearly a poor design decision and dangerous. A hotel that tolerated such an unsafe condition was irresponsible and perhaps legally liable. The guest was, of course, a lawyer.

As I entered the general manager’s office, the guest interrupted a harangue as we exchanged introductions.

This was awkward. My sole obligation is to my patient, but it was obvious the manager wanted help in fending off the furious guest. When I suggested privacy for our consultation the guest told me to take care of things on the spot.

Young doctors love to blurt out a diagnosis as soon as the patient walks through the door (which is possible more often than you think). Not only do patients find this offensive, they don’t believe it, so doctors learn to give the impression they are thinking deeply before announcing an opinion.

I examined the nose from several angles. I carefully palpated it. I pulled out my otoscope and peered up his nostrils. Finally I announced that he had suffered a nasal contusion that, fortunately, had done no harm. He needed no X-ray, no treatment. He could go about his business.

According to the law, a person has no grounds to sue unless he has suffered damage, but any competent lawyer can discover damage in any situation. I doubt visions of profit had brought him to the manager’s office. He was upset at his pain and wanted sympathy. The manager had offered to comp the guest’s bill but had maintained his dignity when a humble apology would have worked better.

Still fuming, the guest asked my opinion of the public health hazard in installing clothes hooks at precisely nose level. I agreed the matter deserved attention but pointed out that noses come at many levels.

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