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Kawaauhau v. Geiger

United States Supreme Court
523 U.S. 57 (1998)


Margaret Kawaauhau (plaintiff) saw Dr. Paul Geiger (defendant) for a foot injury. Geiger gave her oral penicillin despite knowing that intravenous penicillin would be more effective. Later, he suspended treatment under the erroneous belief that her infection was cleared. The infection persisted and resulted in Kawaauhau’s leg being amputated below the knee. Kawaauhau and her husband Solomon (plaintiff) sued Geiger for malpractice. A jury awarded the Kawaauhaus $355,000 in damages. Geiger did not carry malpractice insurance. He filed a petition for bankruptcy. The Kawaauhaus asked the bankruptcy court to deem the malpractice judgment nondischargeable on the grounds that it arose from a “willful and malicious injury” committed by Geiger. The bankruptcy court agreed with the Kawaauhaus and ruled the debt nondischargeable. The district court affirmed. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed on the grounds that “willful and malicious injury” refers to an intentional tort, in contrast to reckless or negligent conduct underlying a malpractice claim. The Kawaauhaus petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Ginsburg, J.)

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