Dehn v. Edgecombe

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In the Circu it Court for P rince Geo rge s Cou nty Case No. CAL 00-11627 IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 117 September Term, 2003 JAMES W. DEHN et ux. v. GLENN R. EDGECOMBE et al. Bell, C.J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Eldridg e, John C. (Retired, specially assigned), JJ. Opinion by Raker, J. Eldr idge , J., jo ins in the ju dgm ent o nly Filed: January 14, 2005 The principal question before this Court is whether Maryland recognizes an independent cause of a ction in a patient s w ife against a d octor wh o acted ne gligently while treating her husband but who had no relationship or direct interaction with the wife. We shall hold that petitioners do not hav e an indep endent ca use of actio n against res ponden ts based u pon res ponde nts alleg ed me dical m alpractic e. I. On May 11, 2000, Corinne Dehn and James Dehn filed in the Circuit Court for Prince George s County a medical malpractice action against Glenn Edgecombe, M.D., et. al., alleging that Dr. Edgecom be was negligen t in providing post-operative ca re following M r. Dehn s vasec tomy. The case proceeded to trial before a jury. The court dismissed all of Mrs. Dehn s claims at the close of the plaintiffs case. Th e jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Dehn on the issue of neglig ence , but i n fav or of Dr. E dgecom be on the issue of c ontributory negligence. The court entered judgment in favor of Dr. Edgecombe and the Dehns noted a timely appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. That co urt affirmed, 152 M d. App. 657, 834 A.2d 146 (20 03), and we gran ted the De hns s Petition for Writ of Certiorari. 379 Md. 22 4, 841 A.2d 33 9 (2004). A. Factual Background We recount the facts as set out in the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals. At some time during 1994, when M rs. Dehn was preg nant with the couple's seco nd child, the D ehns dec ided not to have any more children. To that end, they decided that Mr. Dehn should undergo a vasectom y. Mr. Dehn discussed h is desire with Dr. Edgecombe, his family practice doctor. Because Dr. Edgecombe was not qualified to perform a vasectomy, he referred Mr. Dehn to a surgeon, Dr. Samuel F. Mazella, who ultimately performed the vasectomy on Oc tober 2 4, 1995 . There is no issue w ith respect to the referral to Dr. Mazella or with respect to the vasectomy itself. Nor is there any issue with respect to the post-operative care, including post-operative advice, rendered b y Dr. Mazella. Dr. Mazella expressly warned M r. Dehn that the procedure might not be effective and that M r. Dehn might still be able to fathe r a child. To best insu re again st an un wante d pregn ancy, Dr. Mazella instructed Mr. De hn 1) that he was not to have unprotected sexual relations for six months and 2) that, during that time, he was to have at least twen ty ejaculations. D r. Mazella further provided Mr. Dehn with three prescriptions for semen analyses. He instructed Mr. Dehn to have the first semen analysis done after twenty ejaculations, and then to have the remaining tw o semen analyses completed at some time during the remainder of the initial six month period. The results of those tests were to be sent to Dr. Mazella 's office. On ly if and whe n the third an alysis proved negative for sperm was the vasectomy to be considered to be a successful birth control measure. Dr. Mazella further expressly instructed M r. Dehn to contact him, Dr. Mazella, if he had any concerns or problems during the post-operative period. The evidence abundantly showed that Mr. Dehn negligently failed to follow Dr. Mazella's instructions. He never used the three prescriptions for semen analysis, because, he claimed, they were vague and they did not give him specific directions as to a labo ratory, a date, or a location for the sperm count test. Mr. Dehn acknowledged that one reason he did not follow instructions was because he speculated that his health plan would probably not pay for the tests. Obviously, no sperm test results w ere ever sent by Mr. Dehn to Dr. Mazella's office. Mr. Dehn testified that he was not aware that three semen tests were required. At one point, h e stated that he thought the tests were merely a follo w-up a fter the passa ge of six months and twenty ejaculations, without pointing out the significance of that conclusion. Mr. Dehn acknowledged that, notwithstanding the -2- instructions to co ntac t Dr. Mazella about an y questions or concerns, he never again contacted Dr. Mazella. Mr. and Mrs. Dehn engaged in unprotected sexual relations in December of 1996, at which time she conceived the child whose u nwanted birth is the object o f the presen t suit. All of the controversy swirls about the n ature of one or more conversations between Mr. Dehn and Dr. Edgecombe during the period between the perf ormance of the v asectomy in October of 1995 and the onset of Mrs. Dehn's pregnancy in December of 1996. During that time, Mr. Dehn saw Dr. Edgecombe, his primary care provider, on at least several occasions for medical matt ers u nrelated to the vas ecto my. Dr. Edgecombe testified that it was not until July 8, 1996, eight months after the vasectomy, that he even learned, in the course of a visit for an unrelated matter, that the vasectomy had, indeed, been performed on Mr. Deh n. He stated that it was standa rd practice for only the sp ecialist surgeon who performed the operation to handle all aspects of post-operative care, including the monitoring of semen analyses. He te stified that on a single occasion, the visit of July 8, 1996, Mr. Dehn raised with him the subject of a semen analysis and that the subject came up in a casual and offhand manner as they were leaving the office. I had seen Mr. Dehn for a medically related topic. We were done. We were leaving the room and he said, Oh, by the way, Doctor, I need a semen analysis. [It] was highly unusual. No patient has ever asked me that before. Again, we were not in the room, we were in the hall leaving. The patient said to me, Dr. Mazella never asked or wanted to get a semen analysis. That w as unusual, and I told Mr. Dehn that I [had] had a vasectomy in the past and my urologist had wanted to get a semen a nalysis at three m onths after th e vasectomy or after 13 e jaculations. A t that point it was almost nine months p ast the point w here this would have routinely been done. -3- I told Mr. D ehn also [th at] it takes at least 13 ejaculations for the vas defere ns, the sperm duct, to be emptied after a successf ul vasectom y. He told me that he had over twenty protected ejaculations. I also told Mr. Dehn in the hall that I had not heard of a vasectomy failing. Based on what he told me, that it was now six months after the fact when they are routinely done, and that he had twenty protected ejaculations, I d assume that the surgeon had done the p roce dure correctly. He also seemed to indicate that the surgeon had discharged him a long time previously and, based on that, I said I guess you don't need to have a semen analysis. It should have been done at three months. Dr. Edgecombe further testified that if Mr. D ehn had e ver told him that he had not had a single semen analysis test and had not been discharged by Dr. Mazella, he would have sent Mr. Dehn back to Dr. Mazella. Dr. Edgecombe presented the expert opinion of Dr. Bo yle, a family practitioner, that because of the referral of Mr. Dehn to Dr. Mazella, 1) there was no doctor-patient relationship between Dr. Edgecombe and Mr. Dehn as to the vasectomy and the post-operative care, 2) the patient had the responsibility to follow the instructions of the specialist, and 3) the referring physician could assume that such instructions were followed. Mr. Dehn, by way of stark contrast, testified that he had expr essly asked Dr. Edgecom be for a referral for a semen analysis on three separate occasions. The first was on May 24, 1996, when Mr. Dehn told Dr. Edgecombe that six months had passed since his vase ctom y, that he h ad had twenty e jaculatio ns, and that he needed a semen analysis to make certain that he w as sterile. Dr. Edgecombe, however, reassured Mr. Dehn that there was no need for a semen a nalysis and that th ere was n o risk of im pregnating his wife. Mr. Dehn informed his wife about what Dr. Edgecombe had said, but she still wanted to wait for a se men analysis before engaging in unprotected sexual relations. -4- Acc ordingly, Mr. De hn again ra ised the subject with Dr. Edgecombe on the occasion of his next medical appointment on July 9. He again asked Dr. Edgecombe for a referral for a semen analysis and was again told that there was no need for one. Mrs. Dehn, howev er, still insisted on w aiting for a se men ana lysis before having unprotected sexual relations. Mr. Dehn, according to his testimony, brought the subject up with Dr. Edgecombe on yet a third occasion on November 13, 1996. According to his testimony, Dr. Edgecombe replied: Jim my, personally I had a vasectomy seven years ago. I didn't have a sperm count done. Me and my wife [sic] have practiced regular relations. You 're not going to g et your wife pregnant. Will you go home, [and] tell your wife I personally assure her you cann ot fathe r any child ren. Dr. Edgecombe, on the other hand, denied that he had even seen Mr. D ehn on Nove mber 1 3, for an y reason. 152 Md. App. at 663-67, 834 A.2d at 149-151. B. The Trial Prior to trial, Dr. Edgecombe moved in limine, seeking to exclude any reference to M r. Dehn s pre-existing medical condition as it related to his reasons for seeking a vasectomy. The defenda nts also sought to exclude any reference to any purported conversation by Dr. Edgecombe suggesting that Mrs. Dehn had been impregnated by a man other than her husband. Counsel argued that the probative value of this information was outweighed by the prejudicial effect it woul d have on the ju ry. In addit ion, defendants argued that there was no medical testimony that Mr. Dehn s life would be shortened for any reason. The trial court granted the -5- motion, ruling that the decrease in life expectancy and related matters were not relevant, and more prejudicial than probative. Trial commence d before a jury in July 2002 in the C ircuit Court for Prince George s Cou nty. Petitioners theory was that the negligence in failing to provide a referral for semen analysis is the fault of Dr. Edgecombe, and the cost of raising this child should be borne by the party who w as negligen t. At the close of petitioners case, Dr. Edgecombe moved for judgment in his favor. As we have indicated, the Circuit Court granted the motion with respect to Mrs. Dehn, dismissing all her claims, but allowed M r. Dehn s claims to proce ed. The jury found that: (a) Dr. Edgecombe was negligent by his failure to provide adequate post-operative care to Mr. Dehn following his vasectomy, and (b) Mr. Dehn was contributorily negligent by his failure to follow the instructions of Dr. Mazella who performed the vasectomy. Based on the jury finding of contributory negligence, the court entered judgment on behalf of Dr. Edgecombe. Before the Court o f Special Appeals, the Dehns argued that the Circuit Court s dismissal of Mrs. Dehn s claims against Dr. Edgecombe was legal error. The court disagreed with the Dehns and held that because Mrs. Dehn had never been a patient of Dr. Edgecombe, he did not owe her the duty of care arising out of a doctor-patient relationship. Thus, she could assert no cognizable claim of negligence against the doctor. The court rejected the argument that, even in the absence of a doctor-patient relationship, D r. Edgecombe owed her a duty of care by virtue of her position as the spou se of Mr. Dehn. The c ourt explained that any claims -6- for damages Mrs. Dehn might have had in the absence of a doctor-patient relationship were derivative of her husband s claims, meaning that she could not raise an independent cause of action against the doctor, and that any viable claim she might have had was dependent on the successful recovery by Mr. Dehn on his primary negligence action. As it happens, Mr. Dehn s claim of negligence w as not viable because th e jury found h im to be co ntributorily negligent, which, in M aryland, is a comple te bar to an y recove ry by a plaint iff. See Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 295 Md. 442, 456 A.2d 894 (1983). Under the holding of the Court of Special Appea ls, Mrs. De hn, like her h usband, co uld recover no damages from Dr. Edgecombe. The Dehns petitioned this Court for a Writ of Certiorari, presenting the following questions for our consideration: I. In negligent sterilization cases should the doctor-patient relationship be recogn ized to permit a du ty between the doctor and patient s spouse when as a result of the negligent sterilization, the obvious and natural consequence of the malpractice would be that the wife will become pregnant and give birth? If so, would this cause of a ction be ind ependen t or derivative of the patien t? II. Whether the trial court w as properly able to exer cise its discretion in forbidding the introduction of extremely probative and critical evidence related to the patient s genetic reason for the sterilization, when the trial judge: (1) failed to properly consider the use of this evidence as it pertains to the case of Jones v. Malinow ski, [299 Md. 257, 473 A.2d 429 (1984)], and (2) misconstrued the proposition that the evidence was being offered for while intruding on the jury s province of determining the credibility of witnesses? -7- III. Whether the trial judge erred by ruling that Mr. Dehn could not reco ver a ny nonpecun iary damages even though such damages are normally recoverable in negligence actions in Maryland? II. Petitioners argue in this Court that Mrs. Dehn should be permitted to bring an independent cause of action despite her lack of a doctor-patient relationship with D r. Edgecombe. Petitioners rely primarily on the seminal case of Jones v. Malinowski, 299 Md. 257, 473 A .2d 429 (1984 ), in which this Court held that the parents who conceived an unwanted but healthy child because of a doctor s negligently performed sterilization on the wife were permitted to receive damages for child-rearing costs, offset by the benefits the parents derived from th e child s aid, soc iety, and co mfort. Id. at 270, 473 A.2d at 435. Although the Court s holding in that case did not speak to the precise issue here, petitioners base almost their entire argument on language in Jones, which refers to the recipients of the damages of child-rearing costs as the pa rents, not as the single parent who underwent the negligent sterilization. They reason that because the Jones Court reco gnized tha t both parents suffer harm and costs resulting from that surgery, it is implicit in the h olding that each parent has his or her own independent negligence action against the doctor. Petitioners also contend that an independent cause of action by the wife a ccrues bec ause it is emin ently foreseea ble that a doctor s po st-operative a dvice rega rding a vas ectomy to a h usband c ould have serious eff ects on his wife. -8- Respondents primary argument is that there was no error, and if there was, it was harmless. Respondents maintain that any error alleged by petitioners is not prejudicial because the jury found that Dr. Edgecombe was negligent. Petitioners cannot complain because the relevant part of the verdict was in the ir favor. On the substantive issue, respondents counter that the traditional rule in Maryland is that there can be no cause of action in negligence without there first being a duty on the part of the alleged tortfeasor. A duty, in turn, requires that there be a relationship between Dr. Edgecombe and Mrs. D ehn. No such relation ship exists, and therefore there was no duty on the part of Dr. Edgecombe. Respondents disagree with the contention that the pregnancy effected b y the doctor s negligent acts was foreseeable: Dr. Edgecombe was not the surgeon who performed the vasectomy, nor were his conversations with Mr. De hn in the contex t of separate post-operative care for the vasectomy but rather for an entirely unrelated medical matter. Thus, those conversations, after which Mr. Dehn decided to forgo the s emen an alyses altogethe r, could not reasonably be deemed the foreseeable causes of the preg nancy of a p erson wh om the do ctor had ne ver met. -9- III. The cause of a ction Mrs. Dehn wishes to b ring agains t Dr. Edge combe s ounds in negligence.1 Medical malpractice is predicated upon the failure to exercise requisite medical skill and, being tortious in nature, general rules of negligence usually apply in determining liability. Benson v. Mays, 245 Md. 632, 636, 227 A.2d 220, 223 (1967). This understanding is not changed by the fact that the specific conduct constituting the medical malpractice at issue is negligent sterilization. As we explained in Jones v. Malinowski, negligence in the performance of a sterilization procedure is a cause of action in tort based upon traditional medical malpractice principles. 2 99 Md . at 263, 473 A.2d at 43 2. We said that these fundamental principles of a tort action for neglige nce are m anifestly applica ble to a medical 1 In petitioners complaint, as amended, Count I alleged negligence on the p art of Dr. Edgecombe because he negligently failed to provide Mr. Dehn with a refe rral for a sperm count analysis after the performance of the vasectomy. Count II alleged negligence on the part of Dr. Samuel F . Mazella, th e surgeon who pe rformed the vasecto my, for failing to provide for a sperm count analysis after the performance of a vasecto my. Count III alleged wrongful pregnancy against Drs. M azella and Edgec ombe. Coun t IV alleged breach of contract. Count V alleged petitioners loss of consorti um. Counts VI and VII alleged vicarious liability of Caref irst of Maryland a nd Cap ital Care, respe ctively, two hea lth maintenance organizations. Dr. Mazella and the health care providers, Carefirst and Capital Care, are n ot parties to this a ppeal. An action for wrongful pregnancy has been defined as a suit filed by a parent for proximate damages arising from the birth of a child subse quent to a d octor's failure to properly perfor m a ster ilization p rocedu re. Johnson v. University Hosp. of Cleveland, 540 N.E.2d 1370 (Ohio 1989) (citing Jones v. Malinowski, 299 Md. 257 , 473 A.2d 429 (1984)). Wrongful pregna ncy action s typically inv olve a h ealthy chi ld. See Bruggeman v. Schimke, 718 P.2d 635, 638 (Kan. 1986). In Maryland, a wrongful pregnan cy action is nothing more than an action in negligence and is decided properly by applying the same legal analysis employed in any medical negligence claim. -10- malpractice action in Maryland involving . . . a suit by parents for money damages from a physician for the negligent performance of a sterilization operation. Id. at 269, 473 A.2d at 435. By treating a negligent sterilization case like any other negligence tort, we concluded that damages flowing from negligent sterilization should be assessed using traditional negligence principles. We held in Jones that there could be comp ensable inju ry to parents when a child is born as a result of medical negligence, and that the measure of damages inc luded ch ild rearing costs to the ag e of the ch ild s majority, offs et by the benef its derived by the parents from the child s aid, society and comfort. Id. at 270, 473 A.2d at 435. Thus, M rs. Dehn s claim of neglige nt sterilization, if there is one, is to be treated like any other medical malpractice tort, that is, as a traditional negligence claim. Cf. Reed v . Camp agnolo, 332 Md. 226, 232, 630 A.2d 11 45, 1148 (1993) (ap plying same traditional me dical malpra ctice principles for negligence as in Jones to an action alleging so-called wron gful bir th, which alleges that the neg ligence of a physician de prived his p atient of the o pportunity to term inate a pregn ancy that w ould lik ely result in a child b orn w ith seve re birth d efects) . In order to state a claim in neg ligence, the p laintiff must allege and prove fac ts demonstrating (1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plain tiff f rom injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that the plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the lo ss or inju ry proxim ately result ed from the def endan t s breac h of the duty. Horridge v. Social Services, 382 Md. 17 0, 182, 854 A.2d 1232, 1238 (20 04); Green v . North Arundel Hospital, 366 Md. 597, 607, 785 A.2d 361, 367 (2001 ). Our focus is on the first -11- element, a legally cognizable duty owed by Dr. Edgecombe to Mrs. Dehn, for with out a duty, no actio n in neg ligence will lie. Dut y, in negligence, is an obligation, to which the law will giv e recognitio n and eff ect, to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another. Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts, § 53 at 356 (5th ed. 1984). It is based upon a relationship between the actor and the injured person. The issue of duty is one fo r the court as a ma tter of law . See Hemmings v. Pelham Wood, 375 Md. 522, 536, 826 A.2d 44 3, 451 (20 03); Valentine v. On Target, 353 Md. 544, 551 , 727 A.2d 947 , 950 (1999). It is the genera l rule that recove ry for malprac tice against a physician is allow ed only where there is a relation ship be tween the doc tor and patient. See, e.g ., Eid v. Duke, 373 Md. 2, 16, 816 A .2d 844, 85 2 (2003); Dingle v. Belin, 358 Md. 354, 367, 749 A.2d 157, 164 (2000); Hoov er v. Wil liamso n, 236 Md. 250, 253, 203 A.2d 861, 863 (1964); Lemon v. Stewart, 111 Md. App. 511, 521, 682 A .2d 1117, 1181 (1 996). See also Rigelh aupt, What Constitutes Physician-Patient Relationship for Malpractice Purposes, 17 A.L.R .4th 132 (2 005). This relationship may be estab lished by contra ct, express o r implied, altho ugh creation of th e relationship does not require the formalities of a contract, and the fact that a physician does not deal directly with a patient does not necessarily preclude the existence of a physician-patient relationship. What is important, how ever, is that the relationship is a consensual one, and when no prior relationship exists, the physician must take some action to treat the person before the physician-patient relationship can be established. -12- There are exceptions to this rule. For example, when a physician undertakes to act gratuitously or in an emerg ency situa tion, a du ty may be cr eated, see Hoover v. Williamson, 236 Md. 250, 253, 203 A.2d 861, 863 (1964), but such exceptions are rare, particu larly when the doctor never provided any treatment to the person alleging negligence. In Homer v. Long, 90 Md. App. 1, 599 A.2d 1193 (1992), a husband sued his wife s psychiatrist for damages resulting from the psychiatrist s affair with his wife, even thoug h the husband w as never a patient of the psychiatrist. The husband had retaine d the psychiatrist to treat his wife and to provide appropriate counseling and psychiatric treatment for her. He gave to the doctor sensitive and confidential information to aid in the treatment. The psychiatrist responded by using that information to commence a sexual relationship with the wife, which led to the end of he r marriage. T he court he ld that the husband s negligence claim suffered from fatal deficiencie s prim arily a failure to allege a duty tha t the law is prepa red to re cogniz e. Id. at 10, 599 A.2d a t 1197. Judge Wilner, then Chief Judge of the Court of Special Appeals, and currently a judg e on this Court, wrote for the panel that the normal duty that a doctor has to act in conform ance with accepted s tandards o f medica l practice did not apply to the husband. Id. at 10, 599 A.2d at 1197. In Homer, the court noted that some courts have recognized a duty of a physician to a non-patient in limited circumstances, such as when the patient has a communicable disease that puts anothe r person at risk. Id. In Lemon v. Stewart, 111 M d. App . 511, 68 2 A.2d 1177 (1996), the plaintiffs sued the health care provider of a patient to whom they were related -13- because the provider failed to inform them of the patient s HIV-positive test results. Judge Wilner, again for the Cou rt of Special Appeals, reiterated the general rule that [t]he common law duty of care o wed by a h ealth care pro vider to diag nose, evalu ate, and treat its patient ordinarily flows only to the patient, not to third parties. Thus, it has often b een said tha t a malpractice action lies on ly where a he alth care pro vider-patien t relationship exists and there has been a breach of a professional duty owing to the patient. Id. at 521, 682 A.2d at 1181. The court held that under the circumstances presented, n o duty existed o n the part of the health care provider to disclose test results to the plaintiffs, noting that to impose such a duty was not only impractical b ut imprope r, based up on the pub lic policy that the pa tient s privacy righ ts would be violated. Homer and Lemon teach that although the common law does not foreclose the possibility of imposing a du ty of care in the absence of a doctor-patient relationship to a third party who never rec eived treatment from the doctor, it will not do so except under extraordinary circumstances. In Homer, the husband of the patient-wife not only hired the physician to treat his wife but also gave him confidential, personal information on their marriage. But even so, the Court of Special Appeals was unable to discern a doctor-patient relationship sufficient to impose a m edical malp ractice duty of c are on the p sychiatrist with respect to the hu sband . Homer, 90 Md. App. at 10, 599 A.2d at 1197. In Lemon, even where there existed the potential for transmittal of a fatal virus, the co urt refused to impose a duty of care on the physicians to notify third parties, even relatives. -14- We turn to the threshold question in this case: whether there existed a duty flowing from Dr. Edgeco mbe to M rs. Dehn, b ecause if there was no duty, her negligence action will not lie. Mrs. Dehn alleges that a du ty to her was breached w hen Dr. Edgecombe negligently failed to provide Mr. Dehn with the minimally acceptable lev el of med ical care, by unre asonably refusing to provide a referral for a spe rm count afte r the perform ance of a vasectom y, despite the requests of Mr. Dehn. We conclude there was no duty. Judge Moylan, writing for the panel in the Court of Special Appeals, pointed out the absence of any physician-patient relationship between Mrs. Dehn and the doctor, stating as follows: There was no direct doc tor-patient relationship between D r. Edgecombe and Mrs. Dehn. The two of them had never met or spoken to each other until the day of trial. Dr. Edgecombe was Mr. Dehn's primary health care provider, no t Mrs. Dehn's. M r. Dehn, not Mrs. D ehn, was in the health care program that involved Dr. Edgecombe. The evidence was, moreover, that on the three po st-vasec tomy occ asions w hen D r. Edgecombe was allegedly negligent, Mr. Dehn was not even visiting him to discuss post-operative care relating to the vasectomy but was visiting him, without Mrs. Dehn, for other and unrelated medical purposes. If a duty of care owed by Dr. Edgecombe to Mrs. Dehn is to be found, therefore, its source must be somewhere other than in a doctor-patient relationship per se betwe en the tw o of the m. 152 Md. App. at 681, 834 A.2d at 159-60. Petitioners, however, would prefer that we circ umvent th e duty of care analysis altogether and simply rely on what they consider to be the implicit holding of Jones v. Malinkowski. Petitioners argue that the question of whether Mrs. Dehn has a cause of action against the doctor in her own right has been answered by our holding in Jones, which used -15- language that indicated that the parents, not the single parent who underwent the sterilizatio n, were entitled to recove r child-re aring co sts. We disagre e. The question of whether a doctor owes a duty to a spouse of the patient, independent of the duty to the patient who underwent sterilization, was never presented to the Court in Jones. In that case, we granted certiorari to consider a single issue of first impression in this State, raised in the joint petition of the parties, namely: Where a neg ligently performed sterilization resulted in the birth of a healthy child, did the trial court err in its charge that the jury could award damages for the expe nses of raisin g the unpla nned child during m inority reduced by value of the benefits conferred upon the parents by having the child? 299 Md. at 259, 473 A.2d at 43 0. There was no issue of a dismissed spouse as a party; nor was the issue of a duty by the physician to the spou se who d id not undergo sterilization eve r raised. In fac t, disposition of that question would have made no difference in the case because there was no contributory negligence on the part of one of the parties, a s in the case sub judice. In this regard, we completely agree with Judge Moylan s analysis in the Court of Special Appeals: In Jones v. Malinowski, to be sure, there were two plaintiffs, husband and wife. The wife suffered a flawed sterilization operation. The husband was indirectly involved as her spouse. In Jones v. Malinowski, however, the claim of neither plaintiff was, as here, dismissed from the suit. Ther e was, mo reover, no v erdict, as in this case, of contributory negligence against one of the plaintiffs. There was, therefore, no issue in Jones v. Malinowski that involved any difference in the litigational postures of the respective plaintiffs. Th eir only role in that case was as an en tity. It made no difference to the outcome of that case w hether there was one proper plaintiff or two. Consequently, the Court did not pay any attention to what was, in that context, a non-issue. -16- Most assured ly, Jones v. Malinowski did not hold, as Mrs. Dehn now maintains, that in a suit for wrongful birth based on a doctor s negligence each parent has an independent right to sue the defendant-doctor regardless of whether that parent had ever been in a doctor-patient relationship w ith the defendant or no t. If there was a duty of care owed by Dr. Edgecombe to Mrs. Dehn, its source must be sought by some modality other than attempting to read between the lines of Jones v. Malinowski. The only significance of the silence of Jones v. Malinowski is that although it did not affirm the existence of an extended duty of care to the patient s spouse, neither did it deny it. For the purposes of our presen t analysis, th e quest ion rem ained o pen. 152 Md. App. at 686, 834 A.2d at 162-63. Petitioners raise several other arguments in favor of imposing such a du ty. First, petitioners maintain that Dr. Edgecombe owed Mrs. Dehn a duty to act within the relevant standard of post-ope rative care for Mr. Dehn s vasectomy because, even though she was not a direct patient, it was foreseeable that negligence in the care of a vasectom y will result in the wife s pregnancy. Second, that the birth of a child has legal consequences for both parents, since both parents have a statutory and common law duty to provide for th e needs o f their children. See Md. Cod e (2004 Repl. V ol.), § 5-20 3(b) of the Fam ily Law A rticle. Third, that where, as here, the negligent sterilization is a vasectomy on the husband, the physical consequences of a preg nancy, and of the physician s negligence, obviously are more serious for the w ife than fo r the husba nd who was the p atient. First, mere foreseeability of harm o r injury is insufficien t to create a legally cogniz able special relationship giving rise to a legal duty to prevent harm. We recently discussed the -17- nature of duty and foreseeability in Patton v. USA Rugby, 381 Md. 627 , 851 A.2d 566 (2004). Judge Harrell, writing for the Court, noted as follows: Where the failure to exercise due care creates risks of personal injury, the princip al determ inant of duty bec omes f oresee ability. The foreseeability test is simply intended to reflect current societal standards with respect to an acceptable nexus between the negligent act and the ensuing ha rm. In determining w hether a duty exists, it is important to consider the policy reasons supporting a cause of action in negligence. Th e purpose is to discourage or encourage specific types of be havior by on e party to the b enef it of a noth er pa rty. W hile f ores eeab ility is often considered among the m ost important of these fac tors, its existence alone doe s not suffic e to establish a duty under Maryland law. Id. at 637, 851 A.2d at 571 (citations omitted). In Ashburn v. Anne Arundel County, 306 Md. 617, 510 A.2d 1078 (1986), we noted: Howev er, foreseeability must not be con fused with d uty. The fact that a result may be f oreseeable does not itse lf impose a duty in negligenc e terms. Th is principle is apparent in the acceptance by most jurisdictions and by this Court of the general rule that there is no duty to control a third person's conduct so as to prevent personal harm to another, unless a special relationship ex ists either between the actor and the third person or between the actor and the person injured. Id. at 628, 510 A.2d at 1083 (1986). As our cases h ave mad e clear, it is only in a limited number of cases where a special relationship sufficient to impose a duty of care will be found in the absence of traditional tort duty. See Horridge v. Social Services, 382 M d. 170, 854 A.2d 12 32 (2004 ); Remsburg v. -18- Montgomery, 376 Md. 568, 831 A.2d 18 (2003); Muthu kumara na v. Mo ntgome ry Coun ty, 370 Md. 447, 805 A.2d 372 (2002). We believe this is not such a case. In this case, pe titioners do no t maintain tha t there exists a sta tutory basis for imposing a duty, nor a co ntractual bas is for impo sing a duty. Instea d, they maintain that there exists a special r elations hip bas ed on th e fores eeability o f injury to M rs. Deh n. We find petitioners arguments unpersuasive. In a discussion o f the limitation s courts place upon an actor s responsibility for the consequenc es of the actor s condu ct, Prosser & Keeton s et out the prin ciple as follo ws: As a practical matter, legal responsibility must be limited to those causes which ar e so closely con nected w ith the result and of such significance that the law is justified in imposing liability. Some boundary must be set to liability for the con sequenc es of any act, upon the basis of s ome social ide a of j ustic e or p olicy. This limitation is to some extent associated with the nature and degree of the connection in fact between the defendant's acts and the events of which the plaintiff complains. Often to greater extent, however, the legal limitation on the sco pe of liability is associated with policy with our m ore or less ina dequately expres sed ide as of w hat justic e dem ands. Prosser a nd Keeto n on the L aw of To rts, § 41 at 264 (5th ed. 1984). Whate ver arguments might exist for extending the duty of care to a spouse in some other negligent sterilization case, the case sub judice is not the one for doing so. Dr. Edgecombe was not the physician who performed the vasectomy. Any reasonable reliance Mrs. Dehn might have placed in a doctor who performed the actual vasectomy on her husband is attenuated by the fact that Dr. Edgecombe did not perform the vasectomy and was caring for -19- her husband on an unrelated matter when he made his alleged negligent statements. M oreover, not only was there no direct doctor-patient relationship as a result of a contract, express or implied, that Dr. Ed gecomb e would treat Mrs. D ehn with proper pro fessional sk ill, but the two never even met each o ther until the day of trial, nearly seven years after the vasectomy. Dr. Edgecombe did not claim to be giving Mr. Dehn post-operative care; in fact, that care was explicitly undertaken by Dr. Mazella who performed the vasectomy and w hose instructions Mr. Dehn ignore d. Nor are we willing to impose a legal duty on Dr. Edgecombe with regard to Mrs. Dehn based simply on his alleged awareness that Mr. Dehn was married. A duty of care does not accrue purely by virtue of the marital status of the patient alone; some greater relational nexus between doctor and patient s spouse must be established, if it can be established at all, and he re it was not. A duty of care to a non -patient is not one w hich M aryland law is p repared to recognize under these circumstances. The imposition of a common law duty upon Dr. Edgecombe to the wife under these circumstances could expand traditional tort concepts beyond manage able boun ds. The ratio nale for ex tending the duty would apply to all potential sexual partners and expand the universe of potential plaintiffs. All of the above rationales for extending the duty of care apply with equal force to a non-spouse: Unmarried as well as married couples are bound by law to provide for their children, and the physical consequences of childbirth fro m a neglig ent vasecto my remain th e same reg ardless of w hether the m other is married or not. Based on these rationales alone, a family practitioner who ostensibly provides -20- after-care following a sterilization procedure performed by another physician would owe a duty of care not just to the patient who underwent the operation but every sexual partner the patient encounters after the operation a possibility the law does not countenance. IV. Petitioners appeal from the evidentiary rulings pertaining to Mr. Dehn s peripheral artery disease; to separate referrals that Dr. Edgecomb e gave to Mr. Dehn unrelated and several years prior to the vasectomy; and to Dr. Edgecombe s doubts about the paternity of Mrs. Dehn s child. Had these key pieces of evidence been admitted by the trial court, argue petitioners, the jury wou ld not have found M r. Dehn co ntributorily negligent. Thus, we are concerned here only with the impact the evidence might have had on the jury s finding of contributory negligence. The trial court rulings were based upon a finding that the prejudicial value of the evidence outweigh ed the prob ative effec t. In making this determination, [t]he admissibility of evidence, including rulings on its relevance, is left to the sou nd discretion of the trial cou rt, and absent a showing of abuse of that discretion, its rulings will not be disturbe d on ap peal. Farley v. Allstate Ins. Co., 355 Md. 34, 42, 733 A.2d 1014, 1018 (1999). When the trial court s evidentiary rulings result from its determination that the relevance of certain evidence is outweighed by its potential for prejudice, we review that determination for an abuse of -21- discretion. Bern-Shaw v. Baltimore, 377 M d. 277, 2 91, 833 A.2d 5 02, 510 (2003). Abuse of discretion has been described aptly as follows: Abuse of discretion is one of those very general, amorphous terms that appellate courts use and apply with great frequency but which they h ave d efin ed in man y diff eren t ways. . . . [A] ruling reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard will not be reversed simply because the appellate court would not have made the same ruling. The decision under consideration has to be w ell removed from any center mark imagined by the review ing court and beyond the frin ge of w hat that cou rt deems m inimally acceptable. That kind of distance can arise in a number of ways, among which are that the ruling either does not logically follow from the findings upon which it supposedly rests or has no reasonab le relationship to its announced objective. That, we think, is includ ed with in the no tion of untena ble gro unds, violative of fact and logic, and against the logic and effect of facts and inferences b efore the court. North v. N orth, 102 Md. A pp. 1, 13-14, 648 A .2d 1025,1031-1 032 (1994). There was no such abuse here. The trial court s evidentiary rulings with respect to these three categories were not violative of fact or logic or beyond the fringe of w hat is minim ally acceptable. The trial court, whose finger [is] on the pulse of the trial, State v. Hawkins, 326 Md. 270, 278, 604 A.2d 489, 493 (1992), had a sound basis to decide, for example, that the prejudicial value of evidence on Mr. Deh n s arterial disease outweighed any probative value it might have had; similarly, the trial court concluded, logically, that admitting evidence on M r. Dehn s p ast referrals from Dr. Edg ecom be re gard ing the ar teria l dise ase, n ot the vas ecto my, was simply another, more oblique opening into admitting evidence about the disease itself and therefore was inconsistent with the ruling excluding evidence on the disea se. Finally, it was -22- well within the discretion of the court to determine that Dr. Edgecombe s erroneous statements made post-pregnancy regarding the paternity of Mrs. Dehn s child could be substantially prejudicial against him and, in any event, had little, if any, bearing on the c ontributory negligen ce of Mr. Deh n wh ich o ccur red p re-p regn ancy. Petitioners theories on how the exclusion of this evidence had an accumulated effect that would have n egated the finding of Mr. Dehn s contributory negligence which consisted, main ly, of Mr. Deh n s failure to adhere to Dr. M azella s, not D r. Edgeco mbe s, ord ers o nly illustrate how very attenuated is the link of the evid ence to Mr. Dehn s conduct. Indeed, we note that none of these theories, which argue that the excluded evidence would have shown that Mr. Dehn acted reasonably and non-negligently, were square ly presented to the trial court by petitioners co unse l wh o ins tead argu ed fo r adm issib ility on subs tanti ally different grounds.2 2 Petitioners argued in their opposition to respondents motion in limine that Mr. Dehn s health and Dr. Edgeco mbe s statem ents abou t paternity were essential elements of the damages caused to Plaintiffs in this case. Later, petitioners attempted to argue that the evidence on paternity should be allowed to rebut respondents argument that the statute of limitations barred relief. Petitioners also argued that the treatment for the peripheral artery disease was part and parcel of the post-operative treatment of the vasectomy, serving to show that Dr. Edgecombe acted negligently and that it s untrue that he would not have focused on the need for a semen analysis to prevent further children. The closest petitioners came to arguing this theory occurred when petitioners counsel attempted to elicit testimony on the peripheral artery disease to undermine the credibility of respondents witnesses who, according to counsel, attempted to convince the jury on the disputed fact that there w as only one occasion during which Dr. Edgecombe and Mr. Dehn discussed the need for a sperm analysis. Pres uma bly, this information wou ld have led the jury to believe Mr. Dehn that he met with the doctor three times to request the semen analysis, which would, in turn, lead to the conclusion that Mr. Dehn was non-negligent. We agree with the trial court, esp ecially since the negligent acts of Mr. D ehn occu rred with re spect to the in structions of Dr. Ma zella (contin ued...) -23- V. The final question presented f or our revie w deals w ith the availability of nonpecuniary damages in this action. Because M r. Dehn s recovery is barred by his contributory negligence, he is not entitled to any damages, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, and thus we do not address the question. JUDGMENT OF THE COURT O F S P E C I A L A P P E A LS AFFIRMED. COSTS TO BE PAID BY PETITIONER S. Judg e Eld ridge join s in th e jud gme nt on ly. 2 (...continued) and ha d nothi ng to do with th e conv ersation s with D r. Edge comb e. -24-