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Shorter v. Drury

Supreme Court of Washington
695 P.2d 116 (1985)


Facts

Doreen and Elmer Shorter (plaintiffs) were Jehovah’s Witness, a faith prohibiting its followers from receiving blood transfusions. When Doreen was pregnant, she consulted with Dr. Robert Drury (defendant), a family practitioner who diagnosed her as having a “missed abortion,” a condition in which a fetus dies and the uterus fails to discharge it. To guard against infection, a dilation and curettage (D and C) was recommended. Of the three commonly-used methods to perform the procedure, Drury chose the method that posed the highest risk of bleeding due to possible puncture from the instrument used. Drury explained the procedure to Doreen, including the risk of bleeding, but failed to advise her of the two alternate methods. A second opinion obtained by Doreen confirmed the procedure as appropriate and warned her of the risk of significant blood loss. At the hospital, the Shorters signed a document releasing the hospital, physicians, and staff from all liability stemming from her refusal to accept blood if needed. During the procedure, Drury lacerated Doreen’s uterus causing her to bleed profusely. Physicians’ repeated attempts to have Doreen, as well as Elmer, consent to a blood transfusion were rejected. Doreen bled to death. Mr. Shorter filed a wrongful death action alleging Drury’s negligence proximately caused Doreen’s death. At trial, the release document was entered into evidence and the jury was instructed on assumption of the risk. The jury found Drury proximately caused Doreen’s death and awarded $412,000 in damages. That amount was reduced by 75 percent because the jury also found that the Shorters “knowingly and voluntarily” assumed the risk that refusing blood transfusions would result in Doreen’s death. Motions for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict were filed by both parties, and denied by the court. Shorter appealed and Drury cross-appealed, but did not appeal the issue of his negligence.

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Holding and Reasoning (Dolliver, J.)

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  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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