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Law School Case Brief

Schloendorff v. Soc'y of N.Y. Hosp. - 211 N.Y. 125, 105 N.E. 92 (1914)

Rule:

Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient's consent, commits an assault, for which he is liable in damages. This is true except in cases of emergency where the patient is unconscious and where it is necessary to operate before consent can be obtained.

Facts:

Appellant patient brought a trespass action against respondent charitable hospital for injuries associated with an unauthorized surgery that precipitated gangrene and amputation of several fingers. The trial court directed a verdict in favor of the charitable hospital. On appeal, the decision of the trial court was affirmed and the patient further appealed.

Issue:

Was a hospital liable when its physicians violate the commands of the patient?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the decision of the lower court  and held that the charitable hospital was immune from liability related to an unauthorized surgery conducted by its resident physicians, as the relation between the hospital and its physicians was not that of master and servant. The charitable hospital did not undertake to act through them, but merely to procure them to act upon their own responsibility. If the physicians violated the patient's commands, the responsibility was theirs, not the hospital's. The court found that statements made to an attending nurse were insufficient to charge the hospital with notice of a contemplated wrongful operation.

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