TORT LAW AND THE FEDERAL TORT CLAIMS ACT
a. The newspapers today are filled with examples of interesting tort law cases. It
is through tort law that our society attempts to resolve conflicts between those whose
actions injure others and those who have suffered the injuries. Consider the following
recent examples. In one case, the headline reads, "Family files suit over blunder in lung
operation." That case involved a patient who was to have a cancerous right lung
removed. The right lung was removed, but the problem was that the cancer was in the
left lung. Thus, the doctors removed the wrong lung, taking out the healthy organ and
leaving the patient with the cancerous lung. After the surgery, the doctors told the
patient that the lung they removed was found to be cancer-free after all; what they did
not tell him was that the cancer had been in the other lung all along.
b. In another example, the headline read, "Man jokes after foot amputated by
mistake." That same hospital made the news again when, several days later, the
following article appeared: "Second error at Florida hospital causes 77-year-old man's
death." This time, a respiratory technician disconnected the wrong patient from a
c. Another example: ,000 went to the parents of a child following the birth of
a healthy infant. It is not that the tubal ligation failed (the patient had requested that it
be performed in conjunction with her delivery of her previous child). What the doctors
forgot to tell the patient was that they hadn't performed the procedure at all (In Re
Medical Review Panel on Behalf of Laurent, 657 So.2d 713 La. App. 1995).
d. Here is one that appeared in a local newspaper a few years ago. A patient
"entered the Balboa Naval Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., for an appendectomy. For
months after the surgery, she continued to feel the same symptoms of appendicitis.
Eventually she went to the emergency room of a civilian hospital. Doctors there told her
that she still had her appendix, but that she was missing an ovary and her fallopian
e. In an unusual twist, after an automobile accident, the patient, a Jehovah's
Witness, refused blood transfusions at the hospital. As a result of her refusal, the
patient suffered permanent disability. The issue for the appellate court was whether the
defendant (who was admittedly responsible for the accident) should be held responsible
for the injuries the patient sustained as a result of refusing medical treatment. If not,
would this be an intervening cause that breaks the chain of causation? The court held
that the patient had no duty to undergo treatment contrary to her religious beliefs,
thereby making the defendant responsible for all of the patient's injuries Williams v.
Bright, 1995 WL 619381 N.Y. Sup.).