Is there a doctor on the plane (1) : LUSENET : Lessig's Contracts : One Thread

On a transatlantic flight, an airline asks passengers whether there is a "doctor onboard." Reluctantly, a doctor announces that she is a doctor. She proceeds to save the life of an unconscious patient.

Does the doctor have a right to recover against the airline?

-- Anonymous, October 05, 1998


Yes. This situation appears to be the converse of Martin. The airline solicits the doctor's help, and medical assistance is something for which people normally pay. If the airline didn't intend to pay, they should have made that expicit. We have an "implied in fact" contract.

I couldn't really see how the sections of the Restatements that we have read bear on this section. Am I missing something?

-- Anonymous, October 06, 1998

I do not believe that the doctor can recover against the airline in this case. I agree that there is an implied contract, but I do not believe it is with the airline. The airline simply called for help, but it was really in an effort to help the patient ultimately. If a person sitting next to the patient had yelled for help, would we hold that person liable for the doctor's costs as well? I do believe that the doctor should be able to recover from the patient. Here we have a situation where the two parties would have contracted had it been possible, but it clearly was not. If the patient could have, he probably would have contracted with the doctor on the plane to save his life, but this was impossible. I agree that medical services are something for which we normally pay, but the patient who receives the benefit of those services should bear those costs. If we hold the person who called for help liable, we might discourage other people from calling for help in similar situations for fear they would have to pay for any care. On a similar note, if we do not allow the doctor to recover from the patient, we might discourage doctors from helping other unconscious people. Emergency rooms operate on the assumption that even their unconscious patients will pay, and I believe this is a similar case.

-- Anonymous, October 07, 1998

recovery against the airline...?

My question is this: would the airline be liable for the flyer's death or disability had it not requested the aid of a doctor? If it would be, then it seems reasonable to me that the doctor be able to recover from the airline. On the other hand, Amanda's point is valid--it's the patient's responsibility to pay in all cases that I know of, unless someone else is liable for the injury. The airline not appearing liable for the injury, it seems that the flyer would be required to pay. So then can the doctor claim the same restitution twice??? That doesn't sound right...

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

I think Amanda was pretty persuasive that the airline's call for a doctor can't be presumed to be an unilateral contract. In that case, I agree with Paul that we need to know whether the airline would have been held liable for the passenger's injury/death.

If the airline would have been held liable, it seems to me that the doctor could collect against both it and the passenger--for the avoidance of a law suit and for a life, respectively, but only if they first offered to pay after the doctor had saved the patient's life. (I think the doctor could collect twice in this case since the benefits conferred for which she would be collecting would be different in the two cases). I think that neither the airline nor the patient would have a legal obligation to pay the doctor if they don't make that promise, however.

On the other hand, if the airline would not have been liable, there is no benefit conferred to the airline, and the doctor would not be able to collect from the airline unless the airline offered to pay the doctor in exchange for her services before she saves the patient (a traditional quid pro quo kind of contract). The airline's promise to pay would not be enforceable if made after the patient had been saved because there was no benefit conferred on the airline--it would be like the Wyman case.

Also, I have another question. What if the patient wakes up, realizes the doctor had saved his/her life, and, being really grateful, says that s/he will pay the doctor 10 million dollars? Should that promise be enforceable? (On the one hand, it's clearly more than the normal rate for medical care. On the other hand, who are we to say what the benefit conferred (the patient's life) was worth? 15 dollars every two weeks for the rest of Webb's life might have been a lot of money back then too.)

-- Anonymous, October 08, 1998

Response to Is there a doctor on the plane

I'm not sure I agree that there has to be a subsequent promise for the doctor to recover from the patient. I would argue that there is a contract in law here along the lines of that in Chase vs. Corcoran. If the rescuer of a drifting boat can collect for maintenance costs, then surely a doctor who saves a life can get reasonable compensation even in the absence of a promise by the ungrateful patient.

I do, however, agree that the Dr. probably cannot collect from the airline if there is no promise to pay. The Dr. has coferred a benefit of sorts on the airline, but it is indirect and not particularly substantial--especially given that, in this litigious day and age, the patient is likely to sue even if he survives.



-- Anonymous, October 10, 1998

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