Truman v. Thomas

27 Cal. 3d 285, 165 Cal. Rptr. 308, 611 P.2d 902 (1980)



As an integral part of the physician's overall obligation to the patient there is a duty of reasonable disclosure of the available choices with respect to proposed therapy and of the dangers inherently and potentially involved in each. The scope of a physician's duty to disclose is measured by the amount of knowledge a patient needs in order to make an informed choice. All information material to the patient's decision should be given.


Appellants, minor children, filed an action for medical malpractice to recover for the death of their mother from cervical cancer. Plaintiffs contended that appellee breached his duty of care to their mother because he failed to inform her of the material risks of foregoing pap smear. The trial court rejected instructions to that effect requested by appellants. A jury rendered a special verdict finding that appellee was not negligent, and appellants sought review. The state supreme court reversed the verdict.


Should appellee physician be held liable for wrongful death on account of his failure to inform the decedent of the risks of not undergoing pap smear?




Appellee had a duty to provide applellants’ mother with all information material to her decision whether or not to undergo the diagnostic test. The need for disclosure was not reduced because the mother had rejected the recommended procedure. It was reversible error to have failed to instruct the jury that a physician had a duty to disclose all material information to a patient and was liable for resulting injury if the patient would not have refused a test if informed of all significant perils. The error prevented the jury from considering whether appellee breached a duty by not disclosing the risks of failing to undergo the pap smear.

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