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Liability on the part of a hospital may be predicated on the refusal of service to a patient in case of an unmistakable emergency.
Darien E. Manlove, a four-month old baby, was taken by his parents to the emergency room of Wilmington General Hospital (“hospital”), presenting a history of two days of high temperature, sleeplessness, and diarrhea. The parents told the child that the baby was under the care of a physician, and showed the nurse the medicines prescribed. The nurse refused to admit the baby, saying it was hospital policy not to treat a patient who was already under the care of a physician. The parents returned home and made an appointment to see the child's doctor that evening, but the child died in the afternoon of bronchial pneumonia. The administrator of the infant's estate filed suit against the hospital to recover damages for wrongful death. The complaint charged negligence in failing to render emergency assistance, in failing to examine the baby, in refusing to advise the interne about the child or permit the parents to consult him, and in failing to follow reasonable and humane hospital procedure for the treatment of emergency cases. The hospital answered denying negligence and averring that, pursuant to its established rules and community practice, the parents were advised by the hospital’s employee that it was unable to accept the infant for care. The trial court denied the hospital's motion for summary judgment, holding that the hospital was liable for refusing to furnish medical treatment in an emergency because it was a quasi-public institution. The hospital appealed.
2) Yes, if it can be shown that the hospital refused service to the patient in an unmistakable emergency.
On appeal, the court affirmed the denial of summary judgment but disagreed with the trial court's reasoning. The court explained that the hospital was a private institution and had the right to deny any person admission or treatment. According to the court, the receipt of public funds and the exemption from taxation would not convert a private hospital into a public one. However, the court held that the hospital's liability could be predicated on the refusal of service to a patient in an unmistakable emergency. The hospital rule with respect to applicants already under the care of a physician may be said to be an implied recognition of this duty. The case was remanded to the trial court for further development of the record. The court averred that if plaintiff cannot adduce evidence showing some incompetency of the nurse, or some breach of duty or some negligence, his case must fail.