Pennsylvania law governing health care personnel reporting requirements, Section 1518, provides for immunity from civil and criminal liability when reporting. Therefore, health care personnel are immune from any civil or criminal liability when reporting an impaired driver (the patient) to PennDOT. NO ACTION may be brought against any person or agency for providing the required information. Additionally, these reports are held in confidence. Information regarding the source of the report or its contents is not released, even to the patient.
Health care personnel have reported to PennDOT that they are very concerned about the liability of reporting and in fact, in some cases are reluctant to report because of this concern. However, immunity from liability is ensured by Section 1518, which provides immunity from civil and criminal liability. This concern may have resulted from the widespread publication of two cases in the press concerning the reporting issue.
Case 1: Reported driver with alcohol abuse
The first case involved a man who was reported to PennDOT for alcohol abuse. Although this report generated significant discussion and press attention, PennDOT publicly supported the decision to report and has kept health care personnel in confidence. In addition, the Medical Advisory Board reviewed the criteria for reporting substance abuse and decided that no changes were necessary.
Case 2: Consequences of not reporting
The second case involved a civil lawsuit brought against a physician for not advising PennDOT to recall a driverís license. The physician had reported the patientís lapse of consciousness to PennDOT but "did not know" if the patient could safely operate a vehicle given his history. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in favor of the physician that the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code only requires health care personnel to provide medical information to PennDOT, who then makes the determination of a driverís competency.
As a result of this case, the medical regulations relating to physical and mental criteria, including vision standards relating to the licensing of drivers, has been updated to state that anyone with "periodic episodes of loss of attention or awareness, which are of unknown etiology" within the past year cannot drive.
This case emphasizes the fact that if health care personnel DO report, they are immune from civil and criminal liability. However, if health care personnel do not report there is a possibility they could be held responsible as a proximate cause of a crash resulting in death, injury or property loss caused by their patient.