Dr. Oz Not Liable To Television Viewer Claiming Negligent Medical Advice
by Jerry Glover
October 29, 2013
Millions of people have watched “The Dr. Oz Show” every day for several years, so it’s a little surprising that it took this long for a case to be filed by a viewer alleging that Dr. Oz gave some bad advice that ended up injuring the viewer. This viewer’s claim against Dr. Oz and the show, however, fell on deaf judicial ears. Dieth v. Oz, No. 152423/13 (NY Sup. Ct. Oct. 3, 2013).
The plaintiff watched an episode of the Dr. Oz Show during which Dr. Oz suggested an at-home remedy to cure sleeplessness as a result of cold feet. Dr. Oz told viewers they could put uncooked rice into a pair of socks, warm the socks in a microwave and then wear the socks to bed. The plaintiff tried this remedy because he suffers from neuropathy and diminished sensation in his lower extremities as a result of diabetes. He fell asleep and woke up to second and third degree burns on his feet.
The plaintiff alleged negligence on the part of Dr. Oz and the Oz show stating that Oz had breached his duty to instruct the audience about proper procedures for the remedy and to warn the audience of reasonably foreseeable risks of harm. The Oz show moved to dismiss the complaint claiming that it owed no duty of care to a general television audience. In addition the defendant noted that Dr. Oz had warned the audience not to let the rice in the socks get too hot. Finally, the defendant argued that it owned no duty to the plaintiff himself because the plaintiff was aware his medical condition could make him susceptible to injury.
The court noted that in any negligence action the first question is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. The court noted that the answer to this question was based on several factors including the reasonable expectations of parties and society generally, the likelihood that claims would proliferate if a duty were found to exist, the likelihood of unlimited or insurer-like liability and public policy affecting the expansion or limitation of new channels of liability. The court added that the courts job was to limit the legal consequences of wrongs to a controllable degree.
The court held that neither the show nor Dr. Oz had a duty of care owed to the plaintiff. The court pointed out that there was no doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Oz and the plaintiff and, perhaps more importantly, there was no case precedent where a court found a duty of care between a TV talk-show host and the show’s home audience. The court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiff was aware of the possibility of injury as a result of his medical condition.
The court, therefore, dismissed the complaint.
The court’s decision is in line with other courts faced with the question whether a media defendant had a duty of care in connection with its audience. For example, in Rosenberg v. Harwood, No. 100916536 (Utah Dist. Ct. May 27, 2011), a state trial court determined that Google Maps owed no duty to a person who, relying on the directions she received from Google maps, was involved in a car accident. The trial court found that Google owed the plaintiff no duty of care. In Yanase v. Automobile Club of Southern California, 212 Cal. App. 3d 468 (1982), the family of a shooting victim who was a member of the automobile club sued the club because of hotel rating the club published including the hotel where the victim was shot. The court held that the club owned the victim no duty of care with respect to neighborhood safety or security measures at motels listed in the clubs ratings.
TAKE AWAY: An in-person consultation with a medical doctor is probably a better way to alleviate pain than to try to rely on the advice of a TV doctor.