Craft v. Vanderbilt University
Federal Supplement, 2d Series, 1998; 18: 786-798
Court Decision: 18 Federal Supplement, 2d Series 786; 1998 Aug 19 (date of decision). In a memorandum opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee detailed the reasoning behind an earlier decision to allow the research subjects of radiation experiments to continue their case against a private university, a private foundation, and the state. The subjects were pregnant women who were not informed of the risks of ingesting radioactive iron isotopes in a series of experiments at Vanderbilt University between 1945-1947. Nor were they informed in a later follow-up study about the involuntary exposure, nor contacted later when another follow-up study showed a disproportionately high incidence of cancer among the subjects. Because actions by both Vanderbilt and the Rockefeller Foundation in this joint project were so entwined with those by Tennessee, they could be found liable under federal civil rights law. The claims were not time-barred under Tennessee's medical malpractice statutes, because "the experiments did not constitute medical care." Instead the court concluded that the statute of limitations may be tolled because of fraudulent concealment, noting that "[w]here a confidential relationship exists, as between a physician and a patient, there is an affirmative duty to disclose, and that duty renders silence or failure to disclose known facts fraudulent."
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