For years gay and lesbian couples have complained about being denies access to loved ones in hospitals. Now, a lawsuit has been filed in Miami in which Janice Langbehn alleges that she was prevented from being with her partner of 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond, 39, as she died at Jackson Memorial Hospital after a brain aneurysm. The reason for the denial was never made clear to her.
Pond suffered a brain aneurysm in February 2007 and fell into a coma. She said that the hospital would not allow her or their three children to see Pond.
She alleges negligence in forcing her and the children to sit for roughly eight hours while Pond allegedly died alone. She says that she supplied a health care directive form and a power of attorney document to JMH, but was still denied access. She is suing the hospital, two doctors and a social worker.
The denial of such access can clearly constitute negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, gay and lesbian couples often have trouble on infliction claims, which (in the case of third party injuries) are often limited to “close family members” or non-family members who suffer physical injuries. In this case, she can claim that she was not a third party but the direct victim of a negligent infliction.
On negligence, it would seem a straight-forward claim. If the hospital failed to recognize valid papers or refused to explain their decision, it could make for liability. It may also send a message to hospitals that patients and their families have enforceable rights in such circumstances.
Florida recently passed a new law defining marriage as restricted to a man and woman.