The Law School Authority

Kennedy v. Parrott Case Brief

Summary of Kennedy v. Parrott, 243 N.C. 355 (1956)

Facts: The plaintiff went to see the defendant, a surgeon, who diagnosed her ailment as appendicitis and recommended an operation to which she agreed. During the operation the doctor found some enlarged cysts on her left ovary, and he punctured them. After the operation the plaintiff developed phlebitis (blood clots in the vein that cause inflammation). The defendant offered to pay to correct any damage that was done due to the phlebitis. The plaintiff claimed that she had to undergo considerable pain and suffering on account of the phlebitis. The plaintiff filed a civil suit to recover damages for personal injuries resulting from an alleged unauthorized operation performed by the defendant.

Procedural History: The plaintiff filed suit. At the conclusion of the plaintiffs testimony, the court, on motion from the defendant, entered a judgment of involuntary nonsuit (the plaintiff is unable to enter evidence with which the jury can come up with a verdict). The plaintiff appealed the judgment of involuntary nonsuit.

Issue: Did the plaintiff’s testimony make out a prima facie case, that is provide adequate proof of the underlying conduct supporting the cause of action, and therefore a jury could find a verdict in her favor?

Holding: No

Rule of Law: When an internal operation is indicated, a surgeon may lawfully perform and it is his duty to perform, such operation as good surgery demands, even when it means an extension of the operation further than it was originally contemplated, and for doing so he is not to be held in damages as for an unauthorized operation.

Rationale: A surgeon is unable to completely, especially in the 1950s, tell what is going on internally before the actual operation. A surgeon is given the latitude to perform additional work during the operation, if in his professional judgment determines that it is necessary. A cyst can become cancerous and very dangerous if it expands. Rather than sew her back up and ask her to consent to the additional operation, he decided to go ahead and perform it. The court found that the law allows this flexibility in reference to liability for damages. The plaintiff did not argue that the judgment of the surgeon was poor and not dictated by sound surgical procedure, she merely asserts that it was unauthorized and makes no real showing of injury or damage. An expert witness verified the procedure of removing a cyst during another operation as common practice.

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