Helling v. Carey

Supreme Court of Washington

519 P.2d 981 (Wash. 1974)

Even where generally accepted professional standards do not require a specific action, doctors must nevertheless follow a “reasonable prudence” standard in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Relevant Facts

Helling (the plaintiff) suffered from a condition where fluids were unable to flow out of her eye. The condition, called primary open angle glaucoma, carries a risk of optic nerve damage and a loss of vision, and is detected through a pressure test performed on the eye. The plaintiff saw her ophthalmologists, Drs. Thomas Carey and Robert Laughlin (the defendants) for regular appointments and the fitting of glasses and contact lenses for years. They told the plaintiff that her condition was a result of irritation caused by her contact lenses. Later, the plaintiff determined that she had glaucoma and suffered a permanent loss of vision. The plaintiff was 32 years old at that time.

The plaintiff sued, alleging that the defendants’ negligence proximately caused the permanent damage to her eyes. At trial, expert witnesses from both parties testified that the standards of the profession did not require a pressure test to be given to patients under the age of 40 to determine the presence of glaucoma because the disease rarely occurs in individuals that age. The jury found in favor of the defendants. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment and the plaintiff appealed to the state’s supreme court.

Issue

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Holding & Reasoning

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Concurrence

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Dissent

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Last updated:

December 20, 2020

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Procedural History

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Citations

519 P.2d 981 (Wash. 1974)