Brown v. Shyne – Case Brief
Brown v. Shyne, 242 N.Y. 176, 151 N.E. 197 (1926).
Facts: Shyne (D), a practicing chiropractor, treated Brown (P) for laryngitis. Shyne did not have a license to practice medicine but claimed to possess skill for diagnosis and treatment of disease. Shyne was ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor for practicing medicine without a license. Brown became paralyzed after nine treatments and sued Shyne for negligence.
The judge instructed the jury that the appropriate standard of care was that of one in the practice of treating disease. The judge instructed the jury that unlawful practice of medicine without a license constituted some evidence of negligence which the jury could consider together with the other evidence. P was awarded $10,000 and D appealed.
Issues: 1) If a party has violated a statute, but that violation has no bearing on the injury, is evidence of that violation relevant? 2) Is violation of an administrative statute pertaining to the licensing of professionals negligence per se? 3) What is the standard of care for a party who practices a profession without a license?
Holding and Rule (Lehman): 1) No. If a violation of statute has no direct bearing on the injury, proof of that violation is irrelevant. 2) No. Violation of an administrative statute related to licensing of professionals is not negligence per se. 3) The standard of care for an unlicensed party is the same as that of a licensed professional in that field.
The court held that the statute was designed to protect against unfounded claims of skill, and unless P can prove that injury was caused by carelessness or lack of skill D’s failure to obtain a license was not connected with the injury. The mere neglect of a statutory duty does not create a private cause of action.
P argued that even if neglect of a statutory duty does not create liability it tends to prove that an injury was caused by lack of skill or care, because a failure to obtain a license indicates a lack of necessary skill. The court held that the absence of a license does not change the import of D’s actual skill and training and thus the lack of a license alone cannot be the sole basis of negligence.
Disposition: Reversed, new trial ordered.
Dissent (Crane): I do not agree that the fact that D was practicing without a license is not competent evidence and should not have been considered by the jury as some evidence of negligence. The judge properly instructed the jury that D must be the proximate cause of P’s injuries. The prohibition of practicing medicine without a license was for the purpose of protecting P. The violation of this statute was a direct and proximate cause of the injury. If a man is in violation of this statute he takes his chances in trying to cure disease.