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Law School Case Brief

Arato v. Avedon - 5 Cal. 4th 1172, 23 Cal. Rptr. 2d 131, 858 P.2d 598 (1993)

Rule:

There are four "postulates" which comprise the foundation on which the physician's duty of disclosure rests. The first is that patients are generally unlearned in the medical sciences and therefore, except in rare cases, courts may safely assume the knowledge of patient and physician are not in parity. The second is that a person of adult years and in sound mind has the right, in the exercise of control over his own body, to determine whether or not to submit to lawful medical treatment. The third is that the patient's consent to treatment, to be effective, must be an informed consent. And the fourth is that the patient, being unlearned in medical sciences, has an abject dependence upon and trust in his physician for the information upon which he relies during the decisional process, thus raising an obligation in the physician that transcends arms-length transactions.

Facts:

Patient was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and defendant doctors performed surgery and recommended chemotherapy and radiation.  However, patient died one year after the surgery. Plaintiff patient's family filed a case against defendant doctors alleging that the latter had breached their duty to disclose to plaintiff patient information material to his decision whether to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Defendants appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in ruling that doctors are required to disclose life expectancy probabilities?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court held that defendant doctors were not negligent in patient's medical care, and that defendants disclosed to patient all relevant information which would have enabled patient to make an informed decision regarding the proposed treatment to be rendered him. The court further held that the trial court erred in permitting defendants to introduce expert medical witnesses, and that defendants had breached their duty of disclosure.

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