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AORN J. 2001 Oct;74(4):525-8.

"Captain of the ship" doctrine continues to take on water.

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University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee School of Nursing, USA.


The captain of the ship doctrine, which has been interpreted to mean that the surgeon's mere presence in the OR subjects him or her to legal liability for everyone's negligence in that room (akin to the responsibility of the captain of a ship who is held responsible for everything that happens on that ship), emerged in 1949 and grew in popularity through the 1950s. The major reason for this doctrine's popularity was that injured patients were precluded from suing hospitals under the then applicable charitable immunity doctrine. Charitable immunity declined in the 1960s, and by the 1970s, so too was the captain of the ship doctrine in decline. Pennsylvania, which first used the picturesque phrase in 1949, rejected the doctrine in 1974. In the meantime, it has come under much criticism, even among states that adopted it. Despite this decline and despite court language that sometimes borders on ridicule (e.g., anachronistic, prostrate doctrine, indiscriminate repetition), the felicity of the phrase has kept it alive in some states and in many ORs, even in states that have expressly rejected the doctrine. Even more than 20 years after its first rejection, however, courts still are being asked to adopt the doctrine. In 2001, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to adopt the doctrine, adding to the litany of states that have taken an express position against it.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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