Confidentiality and Driving

California health and safety code 103900 requires all doctors to report anyone who has a diagnosis of a "disorder characterized by lapses of consciousness." The Department of Motor Vehicles determines a list of these disorders which primarily includes types of seizures, but also syncope, sleep disorders, etc. The list also apparently includes "confusion."

In 1997, Bryan Christopher Vaca intentionally hit 28 year old Charles Mennell and 63 year old Felix Valdes with his pickup truck. Valdes was killed and Mennell severly injured. Vaca had a diagnosis of bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder and Tourette's syndrome, and heard voices which would tell him that people were his enemies. He had a history of reporting urges to run over such people with his car, and had been involutarily hospitalized multiple times although none of the psychiatrist reported him to the DMV. The last psychiatrist he worked with, Cecil Bradley, had seen him for five years despite a history of not taking his medications. Mennell sued for damages and the jury awarded him $11 million. Bradley was ordered to pay $8.6 million because of responsiblity based on the above code. Bradley's attorneys are appealing the decision, one commenting, "if this holds up on appeal, every psychiatrist will report every psychiatric patient to the DMV."

References for the above information:

  1. California health and safety code 103900
  2. Mintz H. Jury: Psychiatrist liable in patient's road rampage. Mercury News. posted online Apr. 05, 2003.
  3. Page P. $8.6 million alarm bell for psychiatrists: Jury slams doctor for the actions of a patient.. The National Law Journal. (April 14, 2003); 25 (77): A5.