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Helling v. Carey

Citation. 519 P.2d 981 (1974)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Supreme Court of Washington held that although defendants adhered to a medical standard, this does not prevent the defendants from incurring legal liability.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Even if the standard of the medical practice is to not fully examine someone because it is highly unlikely the plaintiff will be diagnosed with a particular disease, the defendants are still liable for negligence for failing to provide the test.


Helling (plaintiff) met with her ophthalmologists (defendants) on several occasions will suffering from angle glaucoma a condition where fluids do not discharge from the eye. In order to diagnose this condition, a pressure test is normally administered. However, the medical standard for this test is normally applied to people over the age of forty years old. Plaintiff was less than forty years old so the defendants did not administer the test. After years of seeing the defendants, it was determined the plaintiff was suffering from glaucoma when the doctors previously thought it was irritation from a contacts lens. Plaintiff filed suit for negligence for permanent damage caused to her eye as a result of failing to diagnose the plaintiff earlier. 


Despite the fact that the defendants complied with the standards of the medical profession are they still liable?


Yes. The court emphasizes that although the standard protects people over the age of forty and only one in 25,000 people suffers from such a condition, the one person deserves the same equal protection as other persons. 


The court emphasizes that this test is simple and could have been easily administered and could have prevented a permanent and life threatening condition. 

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