Ivan Brooks filed suit against Dr. Charles R. Robinson on October 18, 1961, demanding damages for the defendant's breach of an alleged contract to render him medical services.
From a judgment maintaining defendant's exceptions of no cause of action and prescription of one year and dismissing plaintiff's suit, plaintiff appeals.
Plaintiff's petition alleges a verbal contract of February, 1958, by which defendant agreed to treat plaintiff for "tuberculosis to which petitioner had been exposed"; that on defendant's instructions
The prescription of one year maintained below is that of LSA-C.C. Art. 3536, against claims for "damages * * * resulting from offenses and quasi offenses". Action which constitutes a breach of contract may, at the same time, also constitute a tort; and an action in tort to recover the damages caused (regardless of the contractual aspects of the facts) is prescribed by one year; Phelps v. Donaldson, 243 La. 1118, 150 So.2d 35 (1963). But an action in contract to recover the damages is prescribed in ten years, and plaintiff may elect either contract or tort; American Heating & Plumb. Co. v. West End Country Club, 171 La. 482, 131 So. 466 (1930); Lafleur v. Brown, 223 La. 976, 67 So.2d 556 (1953).
Defendant here however, is a physician, and argues that all claims against a physician in his professional capacity, regardless of any contractual aspects, are prescribed in one year. The cases he cites in support of this position are Phelps v. Donaldson, supra; Bresler v. Nugent, 134 So.2d 694 (La.App.1961); and Kozan v. Comstock, 270 F.2d 839 (5th Cir. 1959). In these cases the question is raised whether tort or contract prescription applies. In Mills v. Doty, La.App., 116 So.2d 710 (1959), also cited by defendant, although tort prescription was applied, the issue was not even raised, much less decided.
Kozan v. Comstock was apparently the first case in which the issue was raised under Louisiana law. The basis of the complaint was alleged improper treatment by the defendant physician of a skin abrasion, which plaintiff claimed caused cancer and leg amputation. From its conclusion that the physician-patient relationship may exist independent of contract, and yet the duty of due care, and liability for negligent conduct, nevertheless may be owed by the physician to the patient, the court reached the further conclusion that breach of the duty of due care in all cases (whether or not a contract is present) constitutes a tort.
The court adds, at 270 F.2d 845:
Thus, we take it, the court states in Kozan v. Comstock a patient damaged by his physician would in every case have an action in tort; and, where particular results were guaranteed by the physician, an action in contract. The petition in Kozan v. Comstock, although not set forth, is said to be "based on allegations of malpractice", "inextricably bound up with the idea of breach of implied contract."
We understand the Kozan v. Comstock case to hold that a claim against a physician
We believe that the Louisiana law is, as stated by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Illinois Cent. R. Co. v. New Orleans Terminal Co., 143 La. 467, 78 So. 738 (1918), that:
Accordingly, we are of the opinion that the reasoning of Kozan v. Comstock case does not dispose of the present matter.
In Bresler v. Nugent, supra, involving a claim against a hair-dresser for improper chemical treatment, our brothers of the Third Circuit quoted Dean Prosser to show the possibility of improper hairdressing as tort, and relied on Kozan v. Comstock and Mills v. Doty, supra, to hold that claim a tort prescribed by one year.
In Phelps v. Donaldson, supra, our Supreme Court described the suit as "for damages in tort for alleged malpractice * * and, alternatively, for damages for the breach of a contract warranting particular results" (emphasis supplied). The Court held the tort claim prescribed by one year, and held that the "contract warranting particular results" was not proven. The contractual allegations, we note, were not dismissed on the basis of prescription, but rather after a trial on the merits.
We consider the present matter analogous to the alternative claim in Phelps v. Donaldson, supra. Here, too, the allegation is of contract, and the breach alleged is simple non-performance; plaintiff does not allege unskillful performance, but failure to perform at all. These allegations are taken as true for purposes of the exceptions raised here. We conclude that the action for damages for the breach of contract declared upon is not prescribed by one year, but by the 10-year prescription of LSA-C.C. 3544, against "* * * all personal actions, except those before enumerated".
The District Court judgment dismissing the suit also maintained an exception of no cause of action. It is clear from the trial brief in support of this exception that defendant's only argument was that since he raised the plea of prescription, and the court was therefore obliged to take note of it, the petition affirmatively showed that no cause of action survived the prescriptive period pleaded by defendant. Defendant's
Accordingly, the judgment appealed from is annulled, and set aside; the exceptions are overruled, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with the views herein expressed. Costs are to await final judgment in the matter.