Canterbury v. Spence

464 F.2d 772



As a part of the physician's overall obligation to the patient, there is a duty of reasonable disclosure of the choices with respect to proposed therapy and the dangers inherently and potentially involved.


Appellant patient's action sought damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained as a result of an operation negligently performed, a negligent failure to disclose a risk of serious disability inherent in the operation, and negligent post-operative care. The district court granted directed verdicts to the physicians on the grounds that the patient had failed to produce any medical evidence indicating negligence on the physicians' part in diagnosing the patient's malady or in performing the operation. The court found that the trial judge did not specifically address the alleged breach of duty by the physician to divulge the possible consequences of the operation. Appellant patient sought review of the judgment entered in the District Court on verdicts directed for the two appellee physicians at the conclusion of the patient's case in chief.


Does a physician have the duty to reasonably inform an ailing patient as to the treatment alternatives available and the risks incidental to them?




On appeal, the court held that the patient, in his testimony and that of his mother, made out a prima facie case that the physician violated his duty to disclose the risk of paralysis from the operation. The physician's noncompliance with a professional custom to reveal, like any other departure from prevailing medical practice, may give rise to liability to the patient. The court held that there was testimony from which the jury could have found that the physician negligently performed the operation. The record also contained sufficient evidence to submit to the jury the issues of whether and to what extent any such negligence causally related to the patient's post-operative condition. The court held that these considerations entitled the patient to a new trial. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court, which had entered directed verdicts for the two physicians.

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