Physician Performing Independent Medical Examination Not Free of Tort Liability

A workers' compensation claimant brought an action against a physician who performed an independent medical examination, asserting multiple claims of medical malpractice. The Alaska Supreme Court held the absence of a physician-patient relationship does not immunize a physician performing an independent medical examination (IME) from all tort liability. However, the physician who performed the IME on the claimant at the employer's request did not have a physician-patient relationship with the claimant or a corresponding duty of care that would allow for liability for medical malpractice where the physician expressly advised the claimant at the outset of the IME that no physician-patient relationship would be undertaken and that the purpose of the examination was limited to the specific injuries or conditions identified by the claimant's employer's insurance carrier. Even if a limited duty of care was recognized in the context of a physician performing an IME on a workers' compensation claimant, this duty would not extend to actions taken by a physician whose examination of a claimant consisted of a review of the claimant's medical records and a brief physical examination that was further limited by the claimant. In this case, the doctor examined the claimant and reported that the claimant had no physical injury resulting from the incident, but the claimant later underwent an MRI that revealed several spinal problems, including a Tarlov cyst. The claimant filed suit against the physician. To the extent this workers' compensation claimant's medical malpractice claims against this physician were premised upon a theory that the physician willfully failed to disclose information he discovered during the IME, there was no evidence that this physician discovered the cyst subsequently revealed by the MRI or that the claimant's earlier surgical procedure was unsuccessful. See: Smith v. Radecki, 238 P.3d 111 (Alaska Aug 27, 2010).