Bioethics Blogs

Court Affirms Verdict against Healthcare Surrogate for Failing to Consult Family

The Texas Court of Appeals recently decided Shearer v. Shearer.  This case suggests that healthcare surrogates may be exposed to civil liability when they fail to consult with the rest of the family.

John became ill in 2009 and was admitted to hospital.  Although they were divorced, Corrine told the staff that she was still married to John.  She made several treatment decisions. Later, David, John’s son, visited the hospital.  He and Corrine decided the family would discuss a proposed DNR order.  Corrine later admitted that she knew David relied on her to relay updates on John’s condition.

But, the very next day, without consulting David, Corrine executed the DNR.  The hospital withdrew all life-sustaining care. John died two days later.

Even though David believed that Corrine made the correct decision concerning the DNR, he still sued her. The gravamen of his complaint concerned her not sharing treatment decisions, thus depriving him of the chance to see his father prior to his death.  David asserted claims for breach of fiduciary duty and for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A Texas jury awarded David $35000 for past mental anguish for Corrine’s breach of fiduciary duty, $1500 for past mental anguish arising from Corrine’s intentional infliction of emotional distress, and $10000 in exemplary damages.  The court of appeals affirmed.

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