Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SJC Adopts "Loss of Chance" Doctrine

In two cases decided today, Matsuyama v. Birnbaum and Renzi v. Paredes, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that patients can recover for a reduction in the chance of survival due to medical malpractice. "Where a physician's negligence reduces or eliminates the patient's prospects for achieving a more favorable medical outcome, the physician has harmed the patient and is liable for damages. Permitting recovery for loss of chance is particularly appropriate in the area of medical negligence. Our decision today is limited to such claims."

Damages are to be measured by the "proportional damages method." "Applying the proportional damages method, the court must first measure the monetary value of the patient's full life expectancy and, if relevant, work life expectancy as it would in any wrongful death case. But the defendant must then be held liable only for the portion of that value that the defendant's negligence destroyed."