Injecting Patient Over Objection Is Medical Battery

A woman was allergic to heparin, an anticoagulant. Her doctors were aware of her allergy. She wore a medical bracelet indicating her allergy. Her medical records noted her allergy. However, while she was hospitalized, medical staff repeatedly injected her with heparin in direct contradiction to her specific directive not to give her heparin of any kind. Medical staff injected her with heparin shortly before her death.


Her heirs sued her doctors, the hospital, and the clinic where she had been receiving treatment, alleging she had died from an allergic reaction to heparin injections that had been administered despite her objections. The heirs claimed negligence and medical battery. The United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, construing their complaint to sound only in medical malpractice, dismissed the case for failure to comply with the notice and heightened pleading requirements of the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (TMMA). The district court held that the heparin injections were not procedures or treatments for the purposes of medical battery. Instead, the district court held that the injections were therapeutic drug treatments which could form the basis for medical malpractice but not medical battery. The district court found that the injections were only component parts of the woman’s treatment process that the defendants did not need her specific consent to administer. Hence, the claim for medical battery based on lack of consent also failed.


The Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the medical battery portion of the heirs’ complaint. The court held that an injection of medication was a medical procedure for purposes of a medical battery claim and the heirs stated a claim of medical battery.


Under Tennessee law, performance of an unauthorized procedure constitutes a medical battery, an intentional tort. Medical battery is distinct from, although closely related to, a tort arising from a doctor's failure to obtain informed consent. The threshold question in an informed consent case is whether the patient's lack of information negated her consent. The question in a medical battery case is whether the patient consented at all. Informed consent sounds in battery, even though it is sometimes referred to as a type of malpractice.


Under Tennessee law, an injection of medication was a medical procedure that constituted a touching or physical contact, for purposes of a claim of medical battery. Tennessee has not limited medical battery to a narrow subset of medical procedures. Moreover, under Tennessee law, allegations that a patient did not authorize injections of medication, that the patient refused the injections, and that medical staff injected the patient with medication on a number of occasions despite the patient's directive, stated a claim of medical battery, despite the contention that the gravamen of the complaint sounded in medical malpractice.


The Sixth Circuit United States Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of the heirs’ claims.


See: Shuler v. Garrett, 2014 WL 563272 (C.A.6 (Tenn.), February 14, 2014) (not designated for publication).


See also Medical Risk Law, December 2013 Report: Thicker Than Water: Liability When Blood Clots Cause Injury or Death


See also Medical Risk Law, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication