A New York judge has declined to break the fourth wall between TV doctors and their viewers.
According to a lawsuit that was filed in March, 76-year-old Frank Dietl was watching an episode of The Dr. Oz Show in which Mehmet Oz was dispensing a home remedy to cure sleeplessness due to cold feet. The remedy entailed putting uncooked rice in a pair of socks, warming those socks in a microwave and then wearing the socks to bed.
Dietl, who suffers from neuropathy and diminished sensation in lower extremities from his diabetes, tried Oz’s method at home. He experienced second- and third-degree burns and sued the physician, NBC, Sony Pictures Television and Harpo Productions for his personal injuries.
Last week, New York judge Saliann Scarpulla rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that there is no authority to find “a duty of care between a television talk-show host and his vast home-viewing audience.”
At the hearing, Dietl’s attorney told the judge that what the plaintiff was arguing was not a “quasi physician-patient relationship” but that Oz still breached a duty of care by providing negligent medical advice. Specifically, Dietl believes that Oz should have warned the audience of the dangers related to the at-home remedy if not properly prepared as well as the dangers if the audience had prior medical conditions.
The judge believes this argument still amounts to one of a physician-patient relationship and is unwilling to accept a legal theory that would create a duty of care just because a physician looks into a camera and addresses an unseen audience.
“Dietl fails to convince this court that creating such a duty would be sound public policy,” writes Judge Sarpulla.
The judge also hints that television is not a two-way medium, and as a result, viewers are in a better position to understand their own circumstances than the TV doctor. She says, “Dietl was well aware of his own medical condition, and the possibility that he could be susceptible to injury because of the diminished sensation in his legs.”
As the disclaimer goes, consult your own physician first before trying this at home.