Cahoon v. Cummings

734 N.E.2d 535 (Ind. 2000)



Upon a showing of causation under Mayhue, damages are proportional to the increased risk attributable to the defendant's negligent act or omission.


The plaintiff is the spouse of William Cummings. In 1991, he had complaints of heartburn, so he made an appointment with their family doctor, Robert Kohne. Dr. Jeffrey Cahoon examined Cummings’ x-rays, and diagnosed him with reflux esophagitis and hernia. Cahoon informed him that physical surgery was not to be performed until he lost weight. However, after 7 months and a weight loss of 80 lbs., Cummings was admitted to the E.R at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. As the cancer had already spread through the lymph nodes and liver, chemotherapy was not an option. Cummings filed a complaint against Kohne and Cahoon for negligent misdiagnosis. However, Cummings died 5 months after. As such, his widow filed a suit against the two doctors for her husband’s death. The lower court dismissed the charge against Kohne, but sustained that of Cahoon’s. All parties appealed and sought transfer.


May full damages be awarded if the alleged negligence served as a substantial factor in the death of the patient?




The court reversed and remanded the case for new trial, concluding that it was a reversible error to instruct the jury to award full damages base don the finding that the defendants' negligence was a substantial factor in the resulting death. The Mayhue standard was applied, and the court held that the damages should be “proportional to the increased risk attributable to the defendant’s negligent act or omission.”

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