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Law School Case Brief

Gault v. Sideman - 42 Ill. App. 2d 96, 191 N.E.2d 436 (1963)

Rule:

In actions for malpractice the physician is held responsible for any injury resulting from a want of reasonable care, skill and diligence in his practice, and the burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff. If such a complaint sounds in tort it is necessary that the plaintiff allege his freedom from contributory negligence. In order for the plaintiff to prevail he has to show by affirmative evidence, first, that the defendant was unskillful and negligent, and, second, that his want of skill and care caused the injury to the plaintiff. If either element is lacking in the proof, no case is presented for the consideration of the jury. It has been held that a physician is not an insurer. The responsibility of the physician is to use reasonable care and skill.

Facts:

Plaintiff filed complaints against defendant doctors, alleging that the latter negligently and improperly performed an operation on him. Plaintiff alleged that as a direct and proximate result of the operation, the plaintiff has become permanently paralyzed and crippled in his left leg and sustained other severe injuries. Plaintiff further asserted that he suffered mental anguish because of the result of the operation. Plaintiff thereafter filed a case against the defendants, alleging malpractice and breach of a contract to cure. In their answer, defendants asserted that they exercised due care during the operation of the plaintiff. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendants, granting them a directed verdict. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue:

Was the grant of directed verdict in favor of the doctors proper?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the doctors. The court explained that while the patient had attempted to plead medical malpractice as a tort and breach of the doctors' contract to cure the patient, the patient's complaint failed to properly plead his breach of contract claim. The court explained that other jurisdictions permitted a breach of contract action by a patient against a physician, but required that the complaint clearly set out the contract, the patient's reliance on the contract, and the doctor's breach. Although the court concluded that the relationship between a doctor and patient did not lend itself to an ordinary breach of contract claim, it opined that, in any event, the patient's complaint failed to plead that such a contract existed. With respect to the patient's tort action, the court found that the patient failed to show that the doctors were guilty of negligence in the performance of the operation or that they did not use proper care or skill. Without evidence of negligence or breach of duty, the court concluded that the directed verdict in favor of the doctors was proper.

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