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A physician or surgeon normally undertakes only to exercise the skill and care common to the profession. A doctor may, although he seldom does, contract to cure a patient, or to accomplish a particular result, in which case the doctor may be liable for breach of contract when he does not succeed. In the absence of such an express agreement, the doctor does not warrant or insure either a correct diagnosis or a successful course of treatment, and the doctor will not be liable for an honest mistake of judgment, where the proper course is open to reasonable doubt.
The patient, Sylvia Van Zee, had suffered an injury to her finger in a car accident many years earlier. She consulted with Dr. D. J. Witzke about doing surgery on the finger, mostly for cosmetic reasons, but also to improve dexterity. Dr. Witzke performed the surgery, treated a post-operative infection, and sent Van Zee to physical therapy, whereupon the therapist broke the finger. Dr. Witzke treated the finger again and suggested additional therapy, which Van Zee refused. The finger deteriorated and Van Zee brought an action against Dr. Witzke. The trial court granted summary judgment. On appeal, Van Zee contested only the breach of contract claim.
Did the trial court properly grant summary judgment for Dr. Witzke on Van Zee's claim for breach of an express contract to heal?
The court affirmed the judgment and held that there was no contract of warranty between the parties. Even if Dr. Witzke stated that the finger would have been no worse off after surgery, as Van Zee claimed he said, the statement was insufficient to show that a special contract of warranty was entered into between Van Zee and Dr. Witzke. The statement fell into the category of statements constituting mere therapeutic reassurances of a good result.