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Harrison v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
284 F.3d 293 (2002)


Facts

Dr. Louis Laz was Kenyeda Taft’s obstetrician while she was pregnant with her second child. Taft told Laz that during the vaginal birth of her first child, the baby had been injured and consequently developed a permanent weakness of the arm and hand called Erb’s Palsy. Laz reviewed Taft’s medical records from her first delivery, which described her prior delivery as having occurred without complications. Laz did not discuss with Taft the possibility of delivering her second child by elective cesarean section (C-section) rather than vaginally. Laz delivered Taft’s second child, Melvin Harrison (Harrison) (plaintiff). Taft had a difficult vaginal delivery. Like Taft’s first child, Harrison was injured during the delivery and developed Erb’s Palsy. On behalf of Harrison, Taft sued Laz under the Federal Tort Claims Act, because Laz was a federal employee at the time of the delivery. The United States (defendant) was substituted as the defendant. Taft alleged that Laz negligently gave Taft substandard care by failing to offer and perform an elective C-section. Taft also alleged that Laz negligently failed to obtain Taft’s informed consent to perform a vaginal birth rather than a C-section. The district court granted government’s motion for judgment as a matter of law in regard to whether Laz met the proper standard of care. The question of informed consent proceeded to trial. The district court conducted a balancing test between the risks of vaginal birth and the risks of C-section to determine whether the risks Laz failed to disclose were material. The district court found in favor of the government, concluding that Laz was not under a duty to inform Taft of the possibility of undergoing an elective C-section, because in his reasonable medical judgment, the risks of a C-section outweighed the risks of vaginal birth. Taft appealed.

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Holding and Reasoning (Torruella, J.)

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