Doctors had severed a vein during a routine outpatient procedure, and the 68-year-old woman, suffering from ovarian cancer, had turned purple and blown up like a balloon. She died 14 months later, and Janice Bird and two sisters sued for emotional distress, saying the doctors’ mistakes had been fatal.

A court of appeal last year let the case proceed, but on Wednesday the California Supreme Court seemed worried during oral arguments in San Francisco about exposing doctors to more third-party liability than they already face.