Allowing a patient to leave a health care facility or medical office while intoxicated or impaired in any way can result in liability.



(1) an intoxicated patient in the Emergency Department

(2) a patient prescribed a medication that may be sedating or result in impairment

(3) a patient who has undergone an outpatient procedure with conscious sedation


If the person attempts to drive home and causes an accident, then the people involved with the release from the health care facility may be held liable for:

(1) negligence

(2) malpractice


Preventing a lawsuit:

(1) Do not discharge a patient while intoxicated or sedated if at all possible.

(2) If the patient insists on leaving, then warn the patient of the possible risks of doing so in front of witnesses.

(3) Make a reasonable attempt to arrange an alternative means of transportation.

(4) If the person is given or prescribed a medication that may cause impairment, then instruct the patient not to take the medication before driving, operating machinery or otherwise being in a situation where injury might occur.

(5) Document the encounter in the medical record in a clear and legible fashion.


If the person is visibly impaired, then alerting the police may be an option to prevent an accident from happening. This would not entail a HIPAA violation if no medical information is released.


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