O'Neil v. Montefiore Hospital | 11 AD2d 132 | June 28, 1960


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O'Neil v. Montefiore Hospital

Page 436

202 N.Y.S.2d 436

11 A.D.2d 132

Margaret O'NEILL, as administratrix of the goods, chattels
and credits which were of John J. O'Neill,
deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL and Frank Graig, Defendants-Respondents.

Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department.

June 28, 1960.


Page 437

Benjamin Adler, New York City, of counsel (Gustave G. Rosenberg, New York City, with him on the brief, Gustave G. Rosenberg & Lawrence M. Rosenberg, New York City, attys.), for appellant.

         [11 A.D.2d 133] Harold Shapero, New York City, of counsel (Barton Ingraham with him on the brief, Martin, Clearwater & Bell, New York City, attys.), for respondent Graig.

         John Nielsen, New York City, of counsel (John P. Smith, New York City, atty.), for respondent Montefiore Hospital.

         Before [11 A.D.2d 136] BREITEL, J. P., and RABIN, VALENTE, McNALLY and STEVENS, JJ.

         PER CURIAM.

         In this action for the wrongful death of John J. O'Neill, who died of a heart attack on the morning of June 29, 1952, the widow sought

Page 438

recovery against a hospital for failure to render necessary emergency treatment, and against a physician for his failure and refusal to treat the deceased. Since the complaint against the hospital was dismissed at the trial at the close of plaintiff's case and the complaint against the doctor was dismissed at the conclusion of all of the evidence, the question posed on this appeal is whether plaintiff made out a prima facie case sufficient for submission to the jury. In other words, the issue presented is whether, under the circumstances hereinafter described, there was a duty owing respectively by the hospital and the doctor to examine and treat plaintiff's deceased husband.

         We need not emphasize that since this case is one to recover for wrongful death, the plaintiff is not held to the degree of proof required from a plaintiff seeking recovery in his own right (Noseworthy v. City of New York, 298 N.Y. 76, 80 N.E.2d 744; Swensson v. New York, Albany Despatch Co., 309 N.Y. 497, 131 N.E.2d 902). Moreover, upon the dismissal of the complaint, the plaintiff is entitled to the benefit of every inference favorable to her (De Wald v. Seidenberg, 297 N.Y. 335, 79 N.E.2d 430), and, if negligence may be reasonably inferred from the evidence proffered by the plaintiff, the question should be submitted to the jury (Betzag v. Gulf Oil Corp., 298 N.Y. 358, 83 N.E.2d 833; Cornbrooks v. Terminal Barber Shops, Inc., 282 N.Y. 217, 26 N.E.2d 25).

         Briefly, the facts, as they appear in the record, are that the plaintiff awoke shortly before 5:00 a. m., and saw her husband standing at the window, rubbing his arms and chest. His mouth was open 'and he was trying to get as much air as he possibly could.' He was perspiring, his face was white as contrasted with his normally ruddy complexion, and he complained of severe pains in his chest and arms. With the assistance of the plaintiff, O'Neill dressed and walked to the hospital, which was three blocks away. He stopped frequently on the way in order to rest and to find a taxicab, but none was available.

         It appears that the hospital maintained an emergency room or clinic. When Mr. and Mrs. O'Neill arrived at the hospital, [11 A.D.2d 134] the doorman conducted them to the nurse in charge of the emergency room. The plaintiff told the nurse that the deceased was very ill, was suffering chest and arm pains, and she thought he was having a heart attack, and she requested the services of a doctor. At that point, Mr. O'Neill mentioned that they were members of the Hospital Insurance Plan (hereinafter referred to as HIP). Thereupon the nurse stated that the hospital had no connection with HIP and did not take care of HIP patients. After reflecting for a minute or two, the nurse stated, 'I'll try and get you a HIP doctor,' and then telephoned the defendant Graig, telling him that the deceased was in the emergency room of the hospital, complaining of the pains hereinbefore described. She then handed the telephone to Mr.

Page 439

O'Neill who described his pains to Dr. Graig, and then, after a pause, stated, 'Dr. Kirstein.' After another pause Mr. O'Neill said, 'Well I could be dead by 8 o'clock.' When the deceased concluded the telephone conversation, he informed the nurse that Dr. Graig had told him to go home and come back when HIP was open. Mrs. O'Neill, however, asked the nurse to have a doctor examine her husband since it was an emergency. Disregarding the request, the nurse told her that their family doctor would see Mr. O'Neill at 8 o'clock, to which he again replied, 'I could be dead by 8 o'clock.'

         When examination or treatment at the hospital was refused, the plaintiff and the deceased left and returned home on foot, pausing occasionally to permit him to catch his breath. After they arrived at their apartment, and as the plaintiff was helping her husband to disrobe, he fell to the floor and died before any medical attention could be obtained.

         Insofar as the cause of action against Dr. Graig is concerned, the proof indicates and the court found that the plaintiff and her husband were members of the Montefiore Group of HIP. Two of the doctors composing that group, and under contract with HIP to treat its members, were Doctors Kirstein and Graig, the former being the physician ordinarily consulted by the O'Neills, while the latter was the doctor on call on the morning in question.

         Dr. Graig confirmed Mrs. O'Neill's testimony that he received a phone call from the Montefiore Hospital emergency room and spoke to the deceased. Dr. Graig testified in some detail concerning that conversation, and related the inquiries he made concerning symptoms, prior episodes, electrocardiograms, and other items of the patient's medical history. He then went on to state that he offered to come to the emergency room and make an examination, but Mr. O'Neill declined, stating that he [11 A.D.2d 135] felt better and would prefer to wait to see Dr. Kirstein who would be available at 8 o'clock.

         We are not called upon to decide whether, by his contract with HIP, Dr. Graig assumed to examine and treat the deceased and failed to do so as distinguished from whether he, defendant Graig, independently undertook or assumed to examine and treat and failed to exercise due care in so doing. Perhaps a more complete development of the facts in that regard might have been desirable. Thus whether, as the plaintiff claimed, there was an abandonment of the patient by the doctor, or as the defendant claimed there was a refusal to accept a proffered examination presents a question of fact which should have been submitted to the jury.

         However, from proof in the record, we must hold that the jury could have concluded that Dr. Graig undertook to diagnose the ailments of the deceased and could have decided whether he abandoned the patient, inadequately or improperly advised him, or, conversely, made a

Page 440

proper diagnosis fully appropriate under the circumstances, or offered an examination which was rejected.

         The law is settled that a physician who undertakes to examine or treat a patient and then abandons him, may be held liable for malpractice (Meiselman v. Crown Heights Hospital, 285 N.Y. 389, 34 N.E.2d 367; see Annotation 57 A.L.R.2d 432-464).

         With respect to the action against the hospital, there is also a question of fact presented which should have been submitted to the jury. That question is whether the conduct of the nurse in relation to the deceased was in the nature of a personal favor to him or whether her conduct was that of an attache of the hospital trying to discharge her duty, and if so, whether what she did was inadequate. So, too, whether the alleged request of the nurse for an examination of Mr. O'Neill, following the telephone conversation with Dr. Graig, and the nurse's refusal to have Mr. O'Neill examined at the hospital constituted negligent conduct, would also be a question for the jury. In this posture it matters not, insofar as the liability of the hospital is concerned, whether any act of the nurse was a medical or administrative one (Bing v. Thunig, 2 N.Y.2d 656, 163 N.Y.S.2d 3).

         In this case the plaintiff's proof was prima facie sufficient to permit, but not to mandate, the inference that the nurse in charge of the emergency ward undertook to provide medical attention for the deceased. In sum, this was a question of fact for the jury. It was error, therefore, to dismiss the case against the hospital at the close of the plaintiff's case. Whether there was a reasonable fulfillment of any obligation undertaken is [11 A.D.2d 136] a matter of defense and a determination of that issue is for the jury.

         The judgment should, therefore, be reversed on the law and a new trial ordered, with costs to abide the event.

         Judgment reversed on the law and a new trial ordered, with costs to abide the event.

         All concur except McNALLY and STEVENS, JJ., who dissent in part and vote to affirm as to defendant Montefiore Hospital in dissenting opinion by McNALLY, J.

         McNALLY, Justice (concurring and dissenting).

         I concur in the order for reversal and for a new trial as against defendant Frank Graig. I dissent and vote to affirm the dismissal of the complaint against defendant Montefiore Hospital. Through the efforts of the hospital's nurse, the decedent had been enabled to communicate by telephone with Dr. Graig who had knowledge of the decedent's presence at the hospital. Dr. Graig did not indicate in any manner that emergency treatment was required nor did he direct or request the admittance

Page 441

of the decedent as a patient to the hospital. Any action by the nurse contrariwise would not have been in keeping with her position. It is my view that the conduct of the nurse was by way of favor and I fail to see any legal basis for liability on the part of the hospital.

         STEVENS, J., concurs.


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May 21, 2013


11 AD2d 132

Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department

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