Injured By Your Doctor? Scarlett Law Group Can Help.
The Scarlett Law Group are National Trial Lawyers based in San Francisco,
California with outstanding results in cases involving automobile accidents,
airplane crashes, traumatic brain injury, head injury, personal injury,
catastrophic personal injuries, mass torts,
medical malpractice, professional negligence, class actions, civil rights, environmental disasters
and wrongful death.
A Review of the Basis of Medical Responsibility
That a physician maintains a duty and thus an obligation to his/her patient
is not a new concept. Writings on Medical Responsibility are traceable
back over 4,000 years. The Code of Hammurabi, 2030 BC provided:
- “If the doctor has treated a gentlemen with a lancet of bronze and
has caused the gentleman to die, or has opened the an abscess of the eye
for a gentleman with a bronze lancet, and has caused the loss of the gentleman’s
eye, one shall cut off his hands.” [Smith Origin & History of
Hebrew Law, (1931) 211, 212; Hughes v. State Board, (1926) 162 GA 246,
134 SE 42, 49.]
Note however, if the patient were a slave and the slave lost his life due
to the wrongful conduct of the surgeon, then the penalty was furnishing
the master with another slave. In those days, the duty to the patient
had a direct relation to the social status. If the physician made a mistake,
and a loss of life occurred, he paid a fixed penalty.
Later, the Egyptians tempered this rule. If the physician followed an established
means of treatment for a disease, and an unfavorable result occurred,
he was exonerated. But if he departed from the acceptable procedure and
treatment, and the patient had ill results, then the doctor was found
at fault, and the penalty could be severe.
While the “practice of medicine” dates from the days of Hippocrates
(400 B.C.), we are unaware of any writings of that day that dealt with
the physician’s conduct and responsibility in relation to his patient.
However, the Greeks must have had some recognition of a duty owed by the
physician to his patient for Plutarch tells the story of Glaucus, a physician
of Ephesus, who left a sick man, and went to the fields. In his absence
the man died because of taking excessably of food. Alexander condemned
the doctor to death for a breach of professional duty. [Charles Greene
Cumston, Laws Governing Civil Malpractice in the Middle Ages, 15 Green
Bag, 409 (1903).]
In the Roman Law, malpractice was a recognized wrong. When Roman Law expanded
and was introduced into Continental Europe around 1200 A.D., a law for
the regulation of the practice of medicine, including the control of drugs,
was promulgated in 1240 by Emperor Fredrick II.
In 1532, during the reign of Charles V, a law was passed providing that
the opinion of medical men should be formally taken in every case of violent
death. Thus, there came to be developed standards by which to judge the
knowledge and skill of a physician, who was to be held responsible, not
only for intentional fault, but also for negligence in the practice of
After the Norman Conquest in 1066, came the development of the English
Common Law, and during the reign of Richard Coeur de Lion, at the close
of the 12th century, official records were kept in the Courts of Common
Law and the Plea Rolls. From these records down to the present time, there
is an unbroken line of decisions concerning medical malpractice.
One of the earliest recorded cases involving medical malpractice in the
English Law was Everad v. Hopkins, (1615) 80 English Reports 1164. Sir
Edward Coke decided an action against a physician for negligence. Plaintiff’s
master had employed a physician to treat his servant. No contract was
entered with the patient. However, it was found that “unwholesome
medicine” had been employed, which caused the servant to become
more ill. Lord Coke said that of course the master could maintain an action
upon his contract, but the servant not being a party could not sue thereon.
However, the opinion was stated that the servant, in his own right, could
have an action on the case for the damages done by the treatment.
Thus, a legal obligation devolved upon the physician because of the universal
demands put forward by society for its own protection. A review of the
past legal history of medicine is important to understand the nature of
the relationship of responsibility of the healer to his patient. Suffice
it to say, since the first cases in which an individual prevailed against
a doctor in court, the stigma for wrongdoing has attached to the doctor
found culpable. This is one of the reasons that fellow-physicians were
for so long unwilling to testify on behalf of those harmed by a fellow
physician’s wrongful conduct. Indeed, to a certain extent, the “conspiracy
of silence” still exists today.
Contact Our San Francisco Malpractice Lawyers
If you or someone you know has been injured as the result of medical malpractice
or professional negligence, you need the assistance of a San Francisco
personal injury attorney from Scarlett Law Group.
Call our office today at (415) 688-2176 to speak with our team.