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Brown v. Shyne

    Citation. 2Brown v. Shyne, 242 N.Y. 176, 151 N.E. 197, 1926 N.Y. LEXIS 973, 44 A.L.R. 1407 (N.Y. 1926)

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff was paralyzed after Defendant performed nine chiropractic treatments without a license. The jury was permitted to infer negligence from the violation of the statute.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If violation of the statute by the defendant was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, then the plaintiff may recover upon proof of violation. If violation of the statute has no direct bearing on the injury, proof of the violation becomes irrelevant.

    Facts. Plaintiff hired Defendant to give her chiropractic treatment. Defendant was not licensed to practice medicine, yet he held himself out as being able to diagnose and treat disease. Defendant was guilty of a misdemeanor for holding himself out as a licensed to practice medicine. Plaintiff received a jury award in the sum of $10,000.00. For the purposes of appeal, the court assumes Plaintiff’s paralysis was caused by Defendant’s treatment. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. If a violation of statute has no direct bearing on the injury, does proof of that violation become irrelevant?

    Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
    * If violation of the statute by the defendant was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, then the plaintiff may recover upon proof of violation. If violation of the statute has no direct bearing on the injury, proof of the violation because irrelevant. The license to practice medicine confers no additional skill upon the practitioner; nor does it confer immunity from physical injury upon a patient unless the practitioner fails to exercise care.
    * The protection, which the statute was intended to provide, was against risk of injury by the unskilled or careless practitioner. Unless Plaintiff’s injury was caused by carelessness or lack of skill, Defendant’s failure to obtain a license was not connected with the injury. The mere failure to be licensed does not impute carelessness. To show negligence, Plaintiff needs to prove that Defendant treated Plaintiff with lack of skill.
    * Defendant must satisfy the professional standards of skill and care prevailing among those who are licensed. If injury follows for failure to meet those standards, then Plaintiff may recover. In order to show that Plaintiff has been injured by Defendant’s breach of the statutory duty, proof must be given that Defendant in such treatment did not exercise the care and skill which would have been exercised by qualified practitioners within the state, and that such lack of skill and care caused the injury. Failure to obtain a license as required by law gives rise to no remedy if it has caused no injury.

    Dissent. (Justice Crane) Defendant is liable irrespective of negligence. The prohibition against practicing medicine without a license was for the very purpose of protecting the public from what occurred in this case. The violation was the direct and proximate cause of the injury. If Defendant, in violation of the statute, takes his chances in trying to cure a disease, and his acts result directly in injury, he should not complain if the law says that his violation of the statute is some evidence of his incapacity.

    Discussion. The court held that it was not required that Defendant be licensed in order to avoid liability for negligence. Defendant could have treated Plaintiff with all the skill and care required of a licensed professional, and Plaintiff could have nonetheless suffered injuries. In such a case, Defendant would not be liable. The lack of care and skill is evidence of Defendant’s negligence, not the failure of Defendant to obtain a license.


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