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Coffee v. McDonnell-Douglas Corp.

Supreme Court of California
503 P.2d 1366 (1972)


Before employing Robert Coffee (plaintiff) to fly planes, McDonell-Douglas Corp. required him to undergo a physical exam including x-rays and bloodwork. A doctor at McDonnell-Douglas’s medical clinic performed Coffee’s exam and signed his fit-to-fly form the same day, although his lab results were not back. The doctor told Coffee he was qualified for flight duty, with the understanding that approval would be withdrawn if the x-rays or bloodwork showed negative results, which comported with McDonnell-Douglas’s usual procedure. Meanwhile, Coffee was qualified to fly planes. Coffee’s bloodwork results simply went in his file without review, again pursuant to McDonell’s usual procedure. Had medical personnel reviewed the results, they would have discovered Coffee had bone-marrow cancer. Coffee collapsed after an extended flight seven months later and was diagnosed. He underwent six months of treatment, including blood transfusion and nausea-inducing drug therapy, and contracted hepatitis because of increased susceptibility to infection. Fortunately, the cancer responded well and remitted. However, Coffee sued McDonell-Douglas and three of its doctors (defendants), arguing that they performed the physical examination negligently and knew or should discovered that Coffee had cancer when he was hired. Coffee asserted that diagnosis at that time would have avoided progression and aggravation of the disease, which reduced his life expectancy, lessened his resistance to other diseases, weakened his bones, and caused him to lose wages by taking time off from work. The trial court entered a jury verdict for Coffee. McDonnell-Douglas appealed, asserting it no duty to discover Coffee’s condition.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Sullivan, J.)

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