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Matsuyama v. Birnbaum

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
890 N.E.2d 819 (2008)



Birnbaum (defendant) was Matsuyama’s physician from 1995 to 1999. Birnbaum was aware that Matsuyama had suffered gastric pain since 1988, and carried several risk factors for gastric cancer, but did not order any tests. When Matsuyama later developed moles on his body and reported severe stomach pain, Birnbaum ordered a test for a bacteria associated with gastric cancer. The test was positive, but Birnbaum failed to order further tests to determine whether Matsuyama had gastric cancer. In May 1999, when Matsuyama complained of severe gastric symptoms, Birnbaum ordered tests that confirmed a cancerous mass in Matsuyama’s stomach, from which he died in October of 1999. Matsuyama’s estate (plaintiff) brought suit against Birnbaum. At trial, an expert testified that Birnbaum breached the applicable standard of care in diagnosing and treating Matsuyama, and that as a result Matsuyama lost the chance to have his cancer diagnosed and treated at a point when it may have been curable. The jury found Birnbaum negligent, and awarded Matsuyama’s estate loss-of-chance damages. The jury calculated the damages as the percentage of full wrongful death damages corresponding to Matsuyama’s chance of survival in 1995 (37.5 percent of $875,000), along with damages for pain and suffering.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, C.J.)

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