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Canterbury v. Spence

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
464 F.2d 772 (1972)



At the age of 19, Canterbury (plaintiff) experienced severe upper back pain and was examined by Dr. Spence (defendant), a neurosurgeon. After undergoing a diagnostic procedure to determine the cause of the pain, Spence recommended that Canterbury undergo a laminectomy, an operation to repair a suspected ruptured disc. Canterbury did not object to nor did he ask any questions about the procedure. Spence spoke to Canterbury’s mother by telephone and informed her that she did not need to come to the hospital and the operation was no more serious “than any other operation.” Canterbury’s mother signed a consent form after the procedure was performed. Post-operation, Canterbury began recuperating normally until he fell from his hospital bed while attempting to use the restroom. Thereafter, Canterbury became paralyzed from the waist down requiring additional surgery. After a second operation, Canterbury regained some limited control over his muscles, but suffered long-term incontinence and bladder paralysis. Canterbury brought a medical malpractice action against Spence and the hospital in federal district court. Spence and the hospital moved for directed verdicts, which the court granted on the basis that Canterbury had failed to produce any medical evidence of negligence. Canterbury appealed to the court of appeals.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Robinson, J.)

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