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CHARLES VATTIMO AND DORIS VATTIMO v. LOWER BUCKS HOSPITAL INC. (04/24/81)

decided: April 24, 1981.

CHARLES VATTIMO AND DORIS VATTIMO, HIS WIFE, ON THEIR OWN BEHALF AND DORIS VATTIMO, AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR JAMES THOMAS VATTIMO, AN INCOMPETENT, PETITIONERS
v.
LOWER BUCKS HOSPITAL INC., RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Arbitration Panels for Health Care, in the case of Charles Vattimo and Doris Vattimo, his wife, on their own behalf and Doris Vattimo, as Guardian ad litem for James Thomas Vattimo, an Incompetent in Lower Bucks Hospital, Inc., No. M78-0676.

COUNSEL

William E. Fairall, Jr., Jackson, Sullivan & Beckert, for petitioners.

Fredric D. Rubin, with him Alan Dion, Durben & Hains, and T. Sidney Cadwallader, Cadwallader, Darlington & Clarke, for respondent.

Judges Rogers, MacPhail and Palladino, sitting as a panel of three. President Judge Crumlish and Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers, Blatt, Williams, Jr., Craig, MacPhail and Palladino. Opinion by Judge Rogers. Judges Wilkinson and Palladino dissent. This decision was reached prior to the expiration of the term of office of Judge Wilkinson.

Author: Rogers

[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 3]

Charles and Doris Vattimo (appellants) appeal from an order of the Administrator for Arbitration Panels for Health Care (Administrator) which sustained Lower Bucks Hospital's (hospital) demurrer to the appellants' complaint filed pursuant to the Health Care Services Malpractice Act.*fn1

The factual allegations of the complaint are as follows:

During the night of August 14, 1976, the appellants summoned the Bristol Township police for assistance with their son James who was behaving in a bizarre manner, including the exhibition of an abnormal fascination with fire. Accompanied by police officers, the appellants took James to the Lower Bucks Hospital where he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, sedated, admitted to the psychiatric ward and placed in a room with another patient. The appellants stayed with their son until he appeared to be asleep and then returned home. Several hours later, having somehow obtained matches or other incendiary materials,

[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 4]

James set fire to his hospital room. The other occupant died as a result of injuries sustained in the fire. James escaped without physical injury.

Thereafter James was questioned by fire marshals and police, was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for fourteen months during which period he lost his employment, was charged with felony murder and incarcerated in the Bucks County Prison for two months and, we have been informed by counsel, was tried and found not guilty of all charges by reason of insanity.

It is further averred that although hospital employees had diagnosed James as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been warned of his psychotic fascination with fire they negligently failed to provide him with adequate care and supervision making it possible for him to obtain the materials necessary to start the fatal fire.

The Administrator, relying exclusively on authorities limiting recovery for the negligent infliction of emotional distress,*fn2 sustained the hospital's preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer and held that "the Complaint fails to claim damages on behalf of any of the Plaintiffs which are recoverable under Pennsylvania Law. . . ." We reverse.

In order to succeed in their action, the appellants must allege and prove that the hospital owed a duty to James, negligently failed to carry out that duty, and that this negligence proximately caused the damages of which they now complain. Brannan v. Lankenau Hospital, 490 Pa. 588, 417 A.2d 196 (1980); Hamil v. Bashline, 481 Pa. 256, 392 A.2d 1280 (1978). The ...


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