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EVELENE DOHAN v. DR. C. STEPHEN STAHLNECKER AND RIDDLE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL (03/25/83)

filed: March 25, 1983.

EVELENE DOHAN, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF DAVID DOHAN, DECEASED, APPELLANT,
v.
DR. C. STEPHEN STAHLNECKER AND RIDDLE MEMORIAL HOSPITAL



No. 2349 Philadelphia, 1980, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, Delaware County, at No. 9919 of 1971.

COUNSEL

Edwin E. Lippincott, II, Media, for appellant.

William C. Beatty, Media, for Riddle, appellee.

Cercone, President Judge, and Wickersham and Brosky, JJ. Wickersham, J., files a dissenting statement.

Author: Cercone

[ 313 Pa. Super. Page 280]

The sole issue raised in this appeal is whether the lower court erred in its charge to the jury in setting forth the contentions of the parties in the proper light regarding the duty of care owed by appellee hospital to appellant's decedent. Upon a thorough review of the record, we now hold that the lower court's instructions concerning this matter were unduly vague. Accordingly, we reverse and order a new trial.

On September 22, 1970, Mr. David Dohan, appellant's decedent, awoke at 6:00 a.m. at his home which was located a few miles from appellee, Riddle Memorial Hospital (hereinafter "Riddle"). Initially, Mr. Dohan complained of pain in his arms, but the other symptoms of a heart attack soon manifested themselves and Dr. Stahlnecker, a long time family friend and personal physician of the decedent, was summoned. The doctor advised Mrs. Dohan that he would come to her residence immediately. However, when Doctor Stahlnecker did not arrive within one half hour, Mrs. Dohan called an ambulance to transport her husband to Riddle. She then telephoned Dr. Stahlnecker and advised him of this

[ 313 Pa. Super. Page 281]

    course of action. He, in turn, called Riddle alerting the emergency room to the fact that a patient of his was on the way to that facility, that he was suffering chest pains, and that Dr. Stahlnecker would meet the patient at Riddle.

Dr. Stahlnecker arrived at Riddle a few minutes before the decedent who was immediately taken into the emergency room. The Riddle emergency facility was staffed by a registered nurse, a practical nurse, an EKG technician, and a resident physician with a sub-specialty in cardiology. At the request of Dr. Stahlnecker an EKG was taken which was thereafter read by Dr. Stahlnecker and then shown to the resident physician, Dr. Kohutiak. The EKG confirmed that the decedent had, indeed, suffered a myocardial infarction -- a heart attack.

At trial, medical testimony was adduced to show that there is a high risk of death in the two hour period following the onset of a heart attack. This great risk is encountered due to temporary heart rhythm alterations -- a condition called arrhythmia. Deaths seldom occur during this critical period, however, where life-sustaining facilities are available. It is undisputed that Riddle has such facilities and that it is fully equipped and staffed to care adequately for victims of coronary attacks. Nevertheless, Dr. Stahlnecker was unaware of this fact and testified at trial that a nurse had told him that Riddle did not have a coronary care unit. Thus, the doctor announced that he was going to have Mr. Dohan taken to Lankenau Hospital where he was on the staff. When Mr. Dohan and his wife asked about the reason for the change of hospitals, Dr. Stahlnecker replied: "They don't have the facilities here to care for this kind of a case." Mrs. Dohan testified that this statement was made in the presence of the resident physician, Dr. Kohutiak, but the doctor denied hearing the statement and Dr. Stahlnecker, the family doctor, did not recall having spoken these exact words. Unfortunately, Mr. Dohan died on the way to Lankenau Hospital due to a sudden onset of arrythmia.

[ 313 Pa. Super. Page 282]

It is important to note that at no time did any of Riddle's Emergency Room personnel inform Dr. Stahlnecker or the Dohans of the fact that Riddle had adequate facilities to care for the patient, nor did they inform them of the great dangers involved in transporting a cardiac patient so soon after his attack. In fact, Dr. Stahlnecker testified that one of the hospital's registered nurses told him the hospital had no life supporting equipment to meet Mr. Dohan's heart problem. As a result, the decedent was removed from the emergency room at Riddle and placed in the same ambulance that had taken him to the hospital. The Riddle employees watched this and did not protest. At trial, Dr. Kohutiak suggested that he did not want to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship between the decedent and Dr. Stahlnecker.*fn1 Dr. Stahlnecker himself testified that he would have ignored any suggestions made by Dr. Kohutiak with regard to not transporting the patient. However, this is understandable, since Dr. Stahlnecker was informed, as he testified, that Riddle did not have the life sustaining facilities for Mr. Dohan's heart problems. According to this information, there would be no reason for him not to try to get the patient to Lankenau for proper life-supporting treatment.

[ 313 Pa. Super. Page 283]

Just prior to the commencement of the jury trial, the claim against Dr. Stahlnecker was settled and a joint tortfeasor's release was executed.*fn2 At the conclusion of the trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of both defendants, Dr. Stahlnecker and Riddle Memorial Hospital. Appellant's motion for a new trial was denied and this appeal followed.

In this appeal, Mrs. Dohan asserts through her counsel that the trial court erred in refusing to charge the jury as a matter of law that decedent herein was a hospital emergency room patient to whom a duty of reasonable care is owed. The trial court addressed ...


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