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Cahoon v. Cummings

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The Indiana Supreme Court held that a doctor is liable for his actions that causes a patient to lose a chance of survival despite the fact that the doctor’s action may not have been a substantial factor in causing the death of the patient. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A doctor is liable for his actions, when those actions causes a patient to lose his chance of survival, even if, the doctor’s actions were not a substantial factor in causing the death of the patient. 

    Facts.

    Cahoon (Plaintiff) dies from esophageal cancer. A suit that was brought on his behalf stipulates that Cahoon’s physicians (Defendants) as a result of negligence did not diagnose nor treat his cancer. At trial, the jury was instructed that if they found the doctors were negligent, it must be a substantial factor in causing Cahoon’s death in order for Cahoon’s family to recover damages. Jury found the Doctors negligent and the Doctors appeal.

    Issue.

    Can a plaintiff recover damages where a doctor is negligent which causes the plaintiff to lose a chance of survival even if the doctor’s negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the death of the patient. 

    Held.

    Yes. The court applies the “loss of chance” rule which states that a person who provides a service to another, is liable for any physical harm he causes either by direct action or by omission of an act so long as it increases the risk of harm to the person even if the action or lack of action is not the proximate cause of the injury.

    Discussion.

    Damages that are awarded in a “loss of chance” case, are proportionally awarded. This means that the defendant is only liable for damages proportionate to the percentage of increased risk. 


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