Under the guise of a claim of contributory negligence, a physician simply may not avoid liability for negligent treatment by asserting that the patient's injuries were originally caused by the patient's own negligence. Those patients who may have negligently injured themselves are nevertheless entitled to subsequent non-negligent medical treatment and to an undiminished recovery if such subsequent non-negligent treatment is not afforded.
The decedent was seriously injured in a car accident after drinking and driving. The doctor operated on him five days later and admitted that alcohol was not an issue at the time of the surgery. The doctor severed an artery during the surgery and the decedent lost a lot of blood, resulting in his death. At the trial concerning the doctor's alleged negligence, the doctor's defense focused not on the surgery, but on the decedent's conduct, drinking and driving, that resulted in the accident that necessitated the surgery. The trial court allowed that evidence, as well as evidence of the decedent's history of drug and alcohol use. The trial court gave a comparative negligence instruction and the jury returned a verdict for the doctor.
Is the history of drug and alcohol use of a deceased relevant in a medical negligence case against the surgeon?
On appeal the court reversed, holding that the decedent's role in the accident was not relevant to the medical negligence claim and that comparative negligence should not have been submitted to the jury. The history of drug and alcohol use was relevant only to considerations of the decedent's life expectancy in assessing damages, and the jury should have been given a limiting instruction.