In perhaps the first ruling of its kind in the state, a Blair County judge ruled Monday that, just like hospitals, methadone clinics can be liable for corporate negligence.

The decision is a setback for Alliance Medical Services Inc.’s legal defense of its methadone clinic in Richland Township.

The private clinic, Altoona Hospital and a psychiatrist are being sued by the estate of Crystal M. Ickes, a single mother of three who died in a 2004 head-on car crash shortly after she left Alliance Medical’s methadone clinic.

Less than an hour after receiving a methadone dose, Ickes was making the 46-mile drive back to her home in Altoona when the car she was driving crossed a median strip on Route 22.

Her vehicle struck a westbound car driven by Matthew Stever, leaving him with severe head injuries that resulted in permanent neurological damage.

The Ickes suit asserts that the combination of methadone, various anti-depressants and sleeping pills prescribed to Ickes impaired her ability to drive safely, and that as a result she either suffered a seizure or fell asleep at the wheel.

This may be supported by the fact that her car left no skid marks.

“For purposes of corporate liability, Alliance clearly meets the criteria of a health-care provider,” Judge Hiram A. Carpenter ruled in an opinion and order in response to defendants’ objections.

Attorneys for Alliance, citing a 1998 Superior Court decision, a lawsuit against an HMO, argued that corporate liability is inapplicable to facilities that deal with limited patient care – in contrast to total patient care provided by a hospital.

In addition to Alliance Medical Services, defendants include Dr. Joseph L. Antonowicz, the psychiatrist who was treating Ickes for depression at Altoona Hospital; the hospital and the Altoona Regional Health System.

It was not known Monday whether the methadone clinic will attempt to file an immediate appeal to the state courts. A telephone message at Alliance’s Richland Township office was not immediately returned Monday.

Aaron Freiwald, the Philadelphia attorney representing Stever and his wife, said that the ruling could open the door for more changes.

“Judge Carpenter is saying the patient has a claim (against a methadone clinic). But someone in a car who is killed or injured by someone under the influence of methadone does not,” Friewald said Monday. But eventually, he added, the courts may allow such claims against clinics.

Friewald has been in contact with the attorney representing the family of Bertha Kitchen, 63, and her granddaughter Samantha, 3, who were killed when struck by a car driven by Bobbi Jo Morgan, 22, of Patton last month.

The crash occurred as Morgan was on her way home after receiving treatment for heroin additional at Discovery House, a Clearfield County methadone clinic.

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