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Fritts v. McKinne

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Dr. McKinne (Defendant) introduced evidence in a medical malpractice action brought by Mrs. Fritts (Plaintiff) that Mr. Fritts had been driving drunk when he was in the car accident that led him to be operated on by Defendant

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Whether the acts of the patient that led to medical treatment were themselves negligent is not relevant to the question of medical malpractice in that treatment.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff’s husband was injured in a one-vehicle accident and underwent surgery conducted by Defendant. Mr. Fritts died following surgery and Plaintiff sued Defendant for medical malpractice. Defendant asserted a comparative negligence defense, claiming that Mr. Fritts’ accident was a result of drunk driving and introducing evidence of his prior drug and alcohol use. The jury found for Defendant and Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of Mr. Fritts’ drug and alcohol use and in allowing the jury to consider comparative negligence. 

    Issue.

    May a defendant in a medical malpractice action introduce evidence related to the negligence acts of the patient that led to the medical treatment in question?

    Held.

    (Stubblefield, J.) No. Whether the acts of the patient that led to medical treatment were themselves negligent is not relevant to the question of medical malpractice in that treatment. Mr. Fritts’ possible negligence was not related to the question of whether Defendant used proper medical procedures in operating on him. The introduction of evidence of Mr. Fritts’ drug and alcohol use and the submission of the defense of comparative negligence were error. Reversed and remanded.

    Discussion.

    The evidence admitted at trial was irrelevant and highly prejudicial. The evidence concerning prior drug and alcohol use would only be relevant in a decision regarded damages based upon probable life expectancy.


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