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Law School Case Brief

Darling v. Charleston Cmty. Mem'l Hosp. - 33 Ill. 2d 326, 211 N.E.2d 253 (1965)

Rule:

Present-day hospitals, as their manner of operation plainly demonstrates, do far more than furnish facilities for treatment. They regularly employ on a salary basis a large staff of physicians, nurses and interns, as well as administrative and manual workers, and they charge patients for medical care and treatment, collecting for such services, if necessary, by legal action. Certainly, the person who avails himself of "hospital facilities" expects that the hospital will attempt to cure him, not that its nurses or other employees will act on their own responsibility.

Facts:

On November 5, 1960, the plaintiff, who was 18 years old, broke his leg while playing in a college football game. He was taken to the emergency room at the defendant hospital where Dr. Alexander, who was on emergency call that day, treated him. Dr. Alexander, with the assistance of hospital personnel, applied traction and placed the leg in a plaster cast. Not long after the application of the cast plaintiff was in great pain and his toes, which protruded from the cast, became swollen and dark in color. Dr. Reynolds performed several operations in a futile attempt to save the leg but ultimately it had to be amputated eight inches below the knee. The patient sought to recover damagesa gainst the Charleston Community Memorial Hospital and Dr. John R. Alexander for allegedly negligent medical and hospital treatment which necessitated the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Prior to trial, however, the action as to Dr. Alexander was dismissed pursuant to a covenant not to sue. Standards for hospital accreditation and the state licensing regulations demonstrated that the medical profession regarded it as both desirable and feasible that a hospital assume certain responsibilities for the care of the patient, contrary to defendant's assertion. The court found a jury could reasonably find negligence because the nurses did not test for circulation in the leg as frequently as necessary, that skilled nurses would have promptly recognized those conditions, and would have known that the condition would become irreversible in hours and informed the attending physician or hospital authorities. The jury returned a verdict against the hospital in the sum of $ 150,000. This amount was reduced by $ 40,000, the amount of the settlement with the doctor. On appeal, the judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the sum of $ 110,000 was affirmed on appeal by the Appellate Court for the Fourth District, which granted a certificate of importance. The hospital appealed the judgment.

Issue:

Should the hospital, which employs a salaried staff and charges for medical care, be liable for negligent treatment of patient who avails himself of "hospital facilities" with the expectation that the hospital will attempt to cure him?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed the intermediate appellate court's judgment affirming the jury's finding of negligent hospital treatment and their award of damages. A reasonable jury could have found negligent hospital treatment when defendant's nurses did not test for circulation in the broken leg as frequently as necessary or because defendant failed to review the doctor's work or require a consultation. There was no dispute that the hospital failed to review the doctor's work or require a consultation, and a jury could have reasonably found that a failure to do so was a negligent act. Furthermore, the hospital was not unfairly surprised by plaintiff's amendments to the complaint because the same theory was asserted at pretrial.

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