Minnesota Supreme Court recently deviated from its traditional rulings on malpractice claims to create a “loss of chance” doctrine, in which a patient is entitled to compensation if the negligence of a doctor can be proved to have decreased the patient’s chances of survival. Kayla and Joseph Dickhoff, the parents of a young girl with a rare form of muscle cancer, brought the case that inspired this decision. The Dickhoffs felt that Dr. Rachel Tolefsrud and her clinic had failed to diagnose their daughter’s suspicious lump, leading to her currently more difficult, painful, and expensive battle with the cancer.
The Court ruled that the defendants had been negligent and should be held liable for the girl’s lessened chances of recovery. Even though this case brought Minnesota to join the other 40 states with “loss of chance” doctrines, the ruling was split 3-2. The dissenting side argued that because a “loss of chance” did not deal with true causation of harm from specific actions, it should not be supported as a liability. Dissenting Judge Christopher Dietzen pointed out that even though the Dickhoffs’ child had worsened and was currently struggling to beat her cancer, who could say with total confidence that it was a result of negligence or just the natural progression of the disease?
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts was the first to rule for “loss of chance” in 2008. They saw the doctrine not as another pitfall for doctors, but as a reminder to provide quality medical services and heightened attention in order to avoid a medical mistake such as misdiagnosis. The Supreme Judicial Court had hoped the “loss of chance” doctrine would lend itself to overall reform in medicine.