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Hicks v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
368 F.2d 626 (4th Cir. 1966)


Carol Greitens was killed due to a misdiagnosis by a doctor at a federal hospital. Hicks (plaintiff), the administrator of Greitens’s estate, brought suit against the United States government (government) (defendant), alleging that the doctor’s misdiagnosis was the result of negligence, rather than just an error of judgment. The doctor’s diagnosis was that Greitens had gastroenteritis, although she actually had an intestinal obstruction, which is, and was, lethal. The symptoms for both are very similar, but the doctor gave his diagnosis without asking certain questions or performing certain examinations on Greitens that are customary when checking for an intestinal obstruction. At trial, the government’s expert witness made a conclusory statement that the doctor had exercised the required standard of care, but in the witness’s testimony, he effectively admitted that the doctor did not actually exercise such care. Hicks’s expert witnesses all testified explicitly that the doctor did not exercise the appropriate standard of care. However, the district court ruled that the doctor’s misdiagnosis was merely an error of judgment, and not negligence. The court therefore dismissed the case. Hicks appealed.

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