Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Canterbury v. Spence case brief

Canterbury v. Spence case brief summary
464 F.2d 772 (1972)

Appellant patient sought review of a judgment entered in the District Court on verdicts directed for the two appellee physicians at the conclusion of the patient's case in chief. The patient's action sought damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained as a result of an operation negligently performed, a negligent failure to disclose a risk of serious disability inherent in the operation, and negligent post-operative care.


The district court granted directed verdicts to the physicians on the grounds that the patient had failed to produce any medical evidence indicating negligence on the physicians' part in diagnosing the patient's malady or in performing the operation. The court found that the trial judge did not specifically address the alleged breach of duty by the physician to divulge the possible consequences of the operation.


  • On appeal, the court held that the patient, in his testimony and that of his mother, made out a prima facie case that the physician violated his duty to disclose the risk of paralysis from the operation. 
  • The court held that there was testimony from which the jury could have found that the physician negligently performed the operation. 
  • The record also contained sufficient evidence to submit to the jury the issues of whether and to what extent any such negligence causally related to the patient's post operative condition. 
  • The court held that these considerations entitled the patient to a new trial. 
  • Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court.


The court reversed the decision of the district court, which entered directed verdicts for two physicians.

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