Dr Eric X v French Republic (2007) H&FLR 2014-56
Court of Cassation (France)
5 June 2007
Coram: Cotte P, Blondet and Farge (conseillers)
Catchwords: France – criminal law – doctor – surgery – obese patient – pulmonary embolism – death – manslaughter – compensation
Facts: The appellant was a surgeon specialising in plastic and reconstructive surgery. On 13 January 2000 he performed an abdominoplasty on an obese 56 year old woman patient in order to remove excess skin and fatty tissue. In the course of the surgery the patient developed a pulmonary embolism which caused her death.
It was found that the danger to the patient had been increased by the appellant’s decision not to delay the procedure pending the patient losing weight by following a dietary regime recommended by an endocrinologist; in the circumstances the surgery performed should have been considered only as a last resort. It was further found that he had not drawn the attention of the attending anaesthetist to the risk of thromboembolisation and that he had also not drawn those dangers to the patient’s attention.
The defendant was convicted at first instance of homicide involontaire (≈ manslaughter). The Court of Appeal at Versailles quashed the conviction but declared the defendant liable to pay compensation to the deceased’s heirs pursuant to article 470-1 of the Code du Procedure Pénale*. The defendant appealed.
Held: Per curiam, dismissing the appeal –
1. While the doctor’s responsibility relates to the choice of medical means and not to the ultimate result, this principle is displaced where it is established that there has been an error in the carrying out of those means.
2. While a doctor is obliged to inform their patient of the risks of proposed treatment, the doctor is entitled to adduce a range of evidence (including presumptions) to demonstrate that they have fulfilled that obligation. It was not open to the Court of Appeal to find that Dr X had failed to fulfil this obligation solely from the absence of a signature by the deceased.
3. On the available evidence, the Court of Appeal was able to find that Dr X’s errors had directly contributed to the patient’s death and justified it ordering him to make recompense to her heirs.
The Court’s judgment is available here.
* No copy of the decision can be located.