Appeal from the Order entered February 5, 2007 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil, No. 04-03111 (consolidated with 03-11978).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klein, J.
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J., and STEVENS, ORIE MELVIN, LALLY-GREEN, KLEIN, BOWES, PANELLA, DONOHUE and SHOGAN, JJ.
¶ 1 Joanne Thierfelder*fn1 (Wife/Joanne) appeals from an order sustaining preliminary objections and dismissing claims against Irwin Wolfert, M.D.*fn2
Wife's complaint essentially alleged that Dr. Wolfert acted negligently when he had a consensual sexual relationship with her for one year while she was his patient and being treated by him for anxiety and depression.*fn3 As a result of that affair, Wife claimed that she suffered and will continue to suffer significant psychological harm.*fn4 Because it is alleged that Dr. Wolfert, although a general practitioner, was rendering psychological care to Joanne, we believe that she has a cause of action and therefore reverse the grant of preliminary objections.
¶ 2 The trial court dismissed this case on preliminary objections, not at the summary judgment stage.*fn5 Therefore, all material facts set forth in the Thierfelders' complaint, as well as all reasonable inferences reasonably deduced therefrom, shall be admitted as true. Sullivan v. Chartwell Investment Partners, L.P., 873 A.2d 710, 714 (Pa. Super. 2005) (citations omitted). The following is what the Thierfelders pled, in part, in their third amended complaint:
(1) Both plaintiffs continued treating with defendants for a number of years during which time each plaintiff, in confidence, advised defendant Wolfert, of his/her respective medical conditions and problems.
(2) During the physician/patient relationship, plaintiff Joann Thierfelder treated with defendant Wolfert for depression and anxiety. Defendant Wolfert prescribed various medications to treat wife plaintiff's depression. [emphasis added]
(3) After wife plaintiff, who was still being treated by defendant Wolfert for depression, informed defendant Wolfert of her feelings, defendant Wolfert, during the spring of 2002, began a sexual relationship with wife plaintiff, his patient.
Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint, 2/4/2004, at 3. Regardless of whether these averments are actually true, they must be accepted as such for the purposes of deciding preliminary objections. Because the trial court failed to follow the proper standard of review when deciding the Defendants' preliminary objections, we must reverse.
¶ 3 Substantively, we believe that a patient does have a cause of action against either a psychiatrist or a general practitioner rendering psychological care, when during the course of treatment the physician has a sexual relationship with the patient that causes the patient's emotional or psychological symptoms to worsen. Therefore, it was error for the trial court to dismiss the Thierfelders' complaint at the preliminary objection phase.*fn6
Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's order dismissing the Thierfelders' amended complaint and remand this matter.
¶ 4 In coming to our conclusion today, we recognize that this situation may be different from a case where a general practitioner is rendering only medical care and is not treating the patient for anxiety or other psychological problems.*fn7 We express no opinion as to whether there is or is not a cause of action when none of the treatment of the general practitioner is for emotional problems.
¶ 5 However, when a general practitioner is also rendering psychological care, just like a psychiatrist, that general practitioner owes a duty of professional care to such a patient. The physician's actions coupled with his or her awareness of the patient's emotional issues (anxiety, depression and marital problems) carries with it a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of mental and/or emotional harm to the patient. Therefore, we reverse and remand. FACTS
¶ 6 The following facts were pled in the Thierfelders' third amended complaint. In 1997 the Thierfelders began treating with Dr. Wolfert, a family physician. Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, 1/30/2004, at 2. Among other ailments, Wife presented with and was treated by Dr. Wolfert for depression, anxiety and marital problems. Id. at 3. This treatment included prescribing Wife various anti-depressant medications. Id. During the course of treatment, both Husband and Wife revealed "details of [their] intimate relations" with each other to Dr. Wolfert so that he "could offer appropriate medical care and/or medication for plaintiffs." Id. According to ...