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Sullivan v. O’Connor

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Sullivan v. O'Connor
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff contracted with a physician to enhance her appearance by performing plastic surgery on her nose. After three surgeries, the physician failed to deliver the promised results and permanently disfigured the plaintiff.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover out-of-pocket expenses for [worsening of her condition, pain and suffering and mental distress.]

    Facts. The Plaintiff had three operations done on her by the Defendant in order to “enhance her beauty and improve her appearance”. After the surgeries were completed there was permanent damage which resulted in Plaintiff’s loss of employment. The jury found for the Plaintiff on contract grounds and for the Defendant on the negligence ground. The judge instructed the jury that first, the Plaintiff was entitled to her out-of pocket expenses. Second, Plaintiff could recover damages flowing directly and foreseeably from Defendants breach of promise. Third, pain and suffering from the third surgery which was done to remedy the first two, which were contracted for originally.

    Issue. Should the trial court’s jury instructions be limited to expectation damages or also include reliance damages for a breach of contract involving a special arrangement between a patient/doctor?

    Held. Plaintiff can recover under either the expectation or reliance theory.
    The Plaintiff had to endure pain and suffering as a result of the Defendant’s breach. Therefore the difference between the pain & suffering she would have experienced during the first and second surgeries, minus the pain & suffering she was caused by the breach or the third surgery. Damages should be awarded for any worsening of the plaintiff’s condition resulting from the breach.
    A breach of a patient-doctor agreement should have damages awarded in an amount, which place the plaintiff back in the position he occupied just before the parties entered upon the agreement, for the harm suffered in “reliance,” upon that agreement.

    Discussion. The court takes into consideration public policy by not wanting to encourage “defensive medicine” by making it easy for patients to sue for breach of promise anytime there is an incident as a result of surgery. On the other hand, the court does not want to make it so difficult to sue for breach of promise that patients can only sue for malpractice when there is an incident affecting the patient’s health due to a negligent surgeon.


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