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Malpractice Judgment Discharged in Bankruptcy
Description Physician filed for bankruptcy after losing large malpractice judgment to patient. Patient's request that malpractice judgment not be discharged in bankruptcy rejected by Supreme Court because the Code specified that only debts for "willful and malicious injury" are not discharged.
Topic Bankruptcy
Key Words Exceptions to Discharge
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Kawaauhau's leg had to be amputated below the knee due to malpractice by Dr. Geiger. After a jury award of $355,000 in Kawaauhau's favor, Geiger, who had no malpractice insurance, petitioned for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Kawaauhau requested the bankruptcy court to hold the malpractice judgment nondischargeable under the provision of the Code that there is no discharge in bankruptcy "for willful and malicious injury ... to another." The bankruptcy court and district court held for Kawaauhau, the appeals court reversed for Geiger. Kawaauhau appealed.
Court of Appeals Decision Affirmed. A debt arising from medical malpractice attributable to negligent or reckless conduct does not fall within the clear wording of the Code, which refers to "willful and malicious injury." That clearly refers to intentional torts, not to torts based on negligence or recklessness, which Congress could have included had it so desired.
Citation Kawaauhau v. Geiger, 118 S.Ct. 974 (1998)

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