Hawkins v. McGee: The Case Every Doctor Should Know About

Medical Doctor Profession Contract Operation
Medical Profession

Every medical operation, no matter how familiar or routine it may be, carries with it a certain level of risk. There is always a chance that an operation will fail to produce its desired result. What’s more, there is always a possibility that a patient will suffer negative consequences from the operation. The case of Hawkins v. McGee (1929) is a famous example of a surgical procedure which put the patient in a condition worse than the one he started in. Hawkins v. McGee should be required reading for all physicians and future physicians just to show them the bizarre possibilities which are a natural part of their profession.


The plaintiff (Hawkins) injured his hand during childhood when he touched a piece of electrical wire. The defendant (McGee) claimed that he could perform surgery on plaintiff’s hand and make it a “one hundred percent good hand.” The defendant expressly guaranteed that the plaintiff’s hand would be returned to top condition following the operation. The defendant used a surgical technique known as “skin grafting” and placed skin taken from the plaintiff’s chest area into the injured hand. The operation failed to fully repair the injured hand. Moreover, the plaintiff’s hand soon started to grow hair! The plaintiff claimed he was entitled to damages for the breach of contract and for the pain and suffering caused by the operation.


If a contract is breached, the underlying aim is to put the injured party in a position which most approximates the position they would be in had the breach not occurred. There are a variety of ways to approach this goal. In this situation, the court found that the plaintiff should be entitled to expectation damages as a result of the breach. Expectation damages amount to the difference in value between what the plaintiff received and what the defendant promised to deliver.


The court (the New Hampshire Supreme Court) ruled in favor of the plaintiff and found that expectation damages should be recovered. The plaintiff contracted for a “one hundred percent good hand” and received a hand which grew hair and was still injured. The plaintiff was therefore entitled to a sum which approximated the difference between what was contracted for and what was received. The court found that the plaintiff was not entitled to recover damages for pain and suffering as these things were a normal part of undergoing such a procedure.

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Medical professionals interested in learning about the tax strategies which can help save them money should view this presentation by CPA Jessica Chisholm

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