Loss Of Chance Doctrine

Under this doctrine, the injury to be redressed by the law is not defined as the death itself, but, rather, as the decreased chance of survival caused by the medical malpractice. Herskovits, 664 P.2d at 487 (Pearson, J., concurring); see also Note, Medical Malpractice: The Right to Recover for the Loss of a Chance of Survival, 12 Pepperdine L. Rev. 973 (1985) (authored by Patricia L. Andel). Of course, the plaintiff or injured person cannot recover merely on the basis of a decreased chance of survival or of avoiding a debilitating illness or injury; the plaintiff must in fact suffer death or debilitating injury before there can be an award of damages. Additionally, the damages are to be discounted to the extent that a preexisting condition likely contributed to the death or serious debilitation. Specifically, “[t]he amount of damages recoverable is equal to the percent of chance [of survival] lost [due to negligence] multiplied by the total amount of damages which are ordinarily allowed in a wrongful death action.” McKellips, 741 P.2d at 476.

By defining the injury as the loss of chance of survival, the traditional rule of preponderance is fully satisfied. In cases in which the plaintiff prevails, it can be said that the medical malpractice more probably than not decreased a substantial chance of survival and that the injured person ultimately died or was severely debilitated. Specifically, in order to create a question of fact regarding causation in these cases, the plaintiff must present evidence tending to show, to a reasonable medical probability, that some negligent act or omission by health care providers reduced a substantial chance of survival given appropriate medical care. In accord with other courts adopting this view, we need not now state exactly how high the chances of survival must be in order to be “substantial.” We will address this in the future on a case by case basis. There are limits, however, and we doubt that a ten percent chance of survival as referred to in the example in the dissenting opinion would be actionable. Survivors of a person who had a truly negligible chance of survival should not be allowed to bring a case fully through trial. Perhaps more importantly, in cases where the chances of survival were modest, plaintiffs will have little monetary incentive to bring a case to trial because damages would be drastically reduced to account for the preexisting condition.

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