The Case Of The Cologne Cocktail, Or Why Doctors Need To Use Common Sense

One day, a little girl we’ll call Sara was brought to the emergency room. Sara was showing some strange symptoms. She was vomiting, unable to walk straight, and had a strange chemical smell on her breath. The doctor ran some tests, and discovered that Sara had a blood alcohol level of 0.035%.  (The legal limit for driving in New Jersey is 0.08%). Her father told the doctor that he had found an empty cologne bottle. The doctor concluded that Sara had drunk cologne. After a few hours at the hospital, Sara was feeling better. The doctor sent her home.

A few months after the cologne incident, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) discovered that Sara was being physically abused at home. Sara was found with bruises and chemical burns all over her body. The authorities immediately removed her from her father’s care.  Later Sara was adopted by a new family.

Sara’s adoptive family sued DYFS, the hospital, and the doctor. The family claimed the doctor was negligent for not reporting the cologne incident to the authorities. The trial judge dismissed the family’s claims against the hospital and doctor. The judge ruled that the doctor was not required to report the cologne incident to the authorities, because it was not necessarily evidence of abuse.

But when Sara’s family appealed, the court above disagreed. The appeals court ruled that Sara’s being drunk on cologne should have put the doctor on notice that something was wrong at home. In New Jersey, a physician who has reason to believe child abuse is taking place must immediately report it.

Apparently, the doctor didn’t think drinking cologne was that peculiar. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “pick your poison.”