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Law School Case Brief

Kaplan v. Mayo Clinic - 947 F. Supp. 2d 1001 (D. Minn. 2013)

Rule:

Minnesota law appears to limit damages in a contract action to those capable of measurement by "some definite rule or standard of compensation," and "to the actual pecuniary loss naturally and necessarily flowing from the breach."

Facts:

Kaplan was diagnosed to have pancreatic cancer after complaining of abdominal pains. He was still diagnosed of the same condition upon obtaining a second opinion from the doctors at Mayo Clinic. Kaplan was advised to undergo surgery, which was then performed by Dr. Nagorney. After examining the pancreatic tissue post-operatively, Mayo pathologists concluded that Kaplan did not have pancreatic cancer. Thereafter, Kaplan and his wife filed an action against Mayo Clinic, its affiliated entities, and the doctors involved in the diagnosis and surgery of Kaplan, alleging claims for medical malpractice, negligent nondisclosure, breach of contract, and loss of consortium. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Nagorney, finding that the Kaplan’s expert affidavit opined only on medical negligence with respect to Kaplan’s medical diagnosis, and not with respect to the surgical procedure performed on Kaplan. Consequently, the court dismissed all of the Kaplan’s claims against Dr. Nagorney with prejudice. The case proceeded to trial against the other defendants on claims of breach of contract and negligent failure to diagnose. The court determined that the breach of contract claim, which arose “out of the diagnosis, care and treatment of Kaplan,” failed because the Kaplans had not presented expert testimony relating to the standard of care to determine whether there had been a breach. After the evidence was presented, the jury returned a verdict for Mayo and Dr. Burgart on the Kaplans' claims for negligent misdiagnosis. The court entered judgment on the verdict. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the Kaplans' request for a new trial on their claim for negligent failure to diagnose, and affirmed the court's judgment with respect to that claim. The Eighth Circuit also affirmed the court's grant of judgment in favor of Dr. Burgart on the Kaplans' breach of contract claim. However, the Eight Circuit concluded that the court erred in granting judgment as a matter of law to Mayo on the Kaplans' breach of contract claim. According to the Eighth Circuit, a reasonable jury could have found that Dr. Nagorney, acting on behalf of Mayo, formed a contract when he allegedly told Kaplan that Dr. Nagorney would perform an intraoperative biopsy to confirm the cancer diagnosis. The Eighth Circuit also determined that a jury could conclude the contract was breached, because it "was undisputed" that Dr. Nagorney failed to perform an intraoperative biopsy. The Eighth Circuit remanded for further proceedings on the breach of contract claim. Mayo filed motions in limine regarding the presentation of damages evidence at the remand trial on the Kaplans' breach of contract claim. Mayo requested that the court (1) preclude the Kaplans from presenting evidence of pain and suffering and emotional damages in support of their breach of contract claim; (2) dismiss Mrs. Kaplan's loss of consortium claim; and (3) limit the Kaplans' evidence of damages to documents and information disclosed prior to the December 30, 2012 disclosure deadline.

Issue:

Should the Kaplans be precluded from presenting evidence of pain and suffering and emotional damages in support of their breach of contract claim?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

According to the court, although pain and suffering and emotional distress damages might seem to be the natural proximate cause of a breach in certain types of contracts, Minnesota courts have expanded the prohibition on recovering such damages in a breach of contract action, even where those damages could be reasonably within the contemplation of the parties based on the nature of the contract. The court noted that based upon Minnesota’s general law governing contractual damages, the Minnesota Supreme Court would likely preclude the Kaplans from recovering pain and suffering and emotional distress damages based upon the breach of any contract formed with Mayo. Under the Minnesota law, damages in a contract action were limited to those capable of measurement by “some definite rule or standard of compensation,” and “to the actual pecuniary loss naturally and necessarily flowing from the breach.” The Kaplans' pain and suffering as well as any emotional distress they may have suffered were damages that, although recoverable in tort, did not appear to be recoverable in a breach of contract action under Minnesota law. Therefore, the court precluded the Kaplans from presenting evidence of pain and suffering or emotional distress at trial to support their breach of contract action. Mayo requested dismissal of the loss of consortium claim, which the court granted because it was a claim derivative of a tort. The court refused to limit evidence to that which was produced prior to December 20, 2012, as to do so would have been an overly harsh sanction to impose on plaintiffs.

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