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Brown v. Shyne

Citation. 242 N.Y. 176, 151 N.E. 197 (1926)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant was not licensed to practice medicine, but gave plaintiff several medical treatments. Plaintiff was paralyzed, and sue defendant for negligence per se.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

If violation of a statute by the defendant is the proximate cause of a 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 does not necessary constitute negligence.


Plaintiff hired defendant to provide her with chiropractic treatments. Defendant was not licensed to practice, but he held himself out as being able to do so and claimed to possess the skill requisite for diagnosis and treatment of plaintiff’s condition. Defendant’s practice without a license violated state statutes. Defendant gave plaintiff nine treatments, and after the treatments plaintiff developed paralysis. Plaintiff brought a negligence action against defendant.


Did defendant’s violation of the statutory requirement of a license to practice itself constitute negligence?


No. The Court reversed the judgment and granted a new trial.


Justice Crane

Justice Crane argued that the majority opinion was wrong to offer the defendant a standard of the legally authorized physician in determining if he was liable. What defendant did was prohibited by law, therefore his violation of the statute should be the direct and proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury, regardless of negligence.


The trial court instructed the jury that they could find defendant liable even the defendant had the actual knowledge and skill to treat plaintiff, as long as he did not have the required license. This Court alleged that the trial court erred.

The provisions of the Public Health Law prohibiting the practice of medicine without a license intended to protect the general public against injury caused by unskilled and unlearned practitioners. The license was used to gauge practitioners’ qualifications, but did not add additional skill to the practitioner. Therefore, 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. But if failure to obtain a license was not connected with the injury, proof of the violation does not necessarily render negligence.

This Court explained that what really mattered was the cause of the injury. 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. The jury should consider evidence of defendant’s training, learning and skills and method he used to find if he was negligent. Breach of the statute may be evidence of negligence only if there is a logical connection between the proven neglect of statutory duty and the alleged negligence. The absence of license did not automatically constitute defendant’s negligence.

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