Lyons v. Grether

Lyons v. Grether 239 S.E.2d 103 (Va. 1977)
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Country: United States
Region: Americas
Year: 1977
Court: Supreme Court of Virginia
Health Topics: Disabilities, Health care and health services
Tags: Access to health care, Access to treatment, Blind, Disabled

Plaintiff Magnolia Lyons, a blind woman, brought action against defendant physician, Eugene Grether, for damages resulting from “breach of his duty to treat” on the claim that the defendant’s waiting room was a public place within the White Cane Act so that she had a right to have her guide dog with her.

Plaintiff, her four year old son and her guide dog arrived at the defendant’s medical office on October 18, 1975 to keep an appointment for “treatment of a vaginal infection.” She was told defendant would not treat her unless the dog was removed from the waiting room. Plaintiff refused to so and was therefore told to leave before she could be seen or receive medical assistance.

The Trial Court held that the defendant had no duty to treat the plaintiff since he had not accepted her as a patient and that the defendant’s waiting room was not a public place within the scope of the White Cane Act.

The Court first determined whether there was sufficient evidence of a physician-patient relationship and consequent duty to treat. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence of a physician patient relationship and duty to treat. The Court noted that there is substantial accord that “in the absence of a statute, a physician has no legal obligation to accept as a patient everyone who seeks his service.” The duty to treat arises only after the creation of the physician-patient relationship which is the product of a contract, express or implied. The Court goes on to state that whether a relationship was created is a question of fact. The Court found that simply having an appointment with the defendant was insufficient, but because the appointment was for the treatment of a vaginal infection there was evidence of a relationship.


Next, the Court determined whether the defendant’s reasons for withdrawing from the relationship excused non-performance of the duty to treat. The Court held that it did not as under the particular circumstances as applied to plaintiff, the defendant’s office was within the scope of the White Cane Act. The Court noted that as a general rule, the physician-patient relationship continues until services are no longer needed. The relationship can also be terminated earlier by mutual consent, by the the patient or under some circumstances, by the physician, provided the patient is afforded a reasonable opportunity to acquire the services he needs from another physician. The Court agreed with the plaintiff that the defendant’s withdrawal was not justified since it violated plaintiff’s rights under the White Cane Act. The Court reasoned that the defendant’s office was a place certain members of the public were invited to receive certain treatments which put it within the intendment of the Act.

“A physician's duty arises only upon the creation of a physician-patient relationship; that relationship springs from a consensual transaction, a contract, express or implied, general or special.” Lyons v. Grether, 239 S.E.2d 103, 105 (Va. 1977)

“Whether a physician-patient relationship is created is a question of fact, turning upon a determination whether the patient entrusted his treatment to the physician and the physician accepted the case.” Lyons v. Grether, 239 S.E.2d 103, 105 (Va. 1977)

“The unmistakable implication is that plaintiff had sought and defendant had granted an appointment at a designated time and place for the performance of a specific medical service, one within defendant's professional competence, viz., treatment of a particular ailment. It is immaterial that this factual allegation might have been contradicted by evidence at trial.” Lyons v. Grether, 239 S.E.2d 103, 105 (Va. 1977)