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HARRY B. MOHN AND HELEN MOHN v. HAHNEMANN MEDICAL COLLEGE AND HOSPITAL PHILADELPHIA (08/25/86)

filed: August 25, 1986.

HARRY B. MOHN AND HELEN MOHN
v.
HAHNEMANN MEDICAL COLLEGE AND HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Philadelphia County at No. 203 May Term, 1975.

COUNSEL

David P. Bruton, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Marshall A. Berstein, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Beck, Popovich and Hoffman, JJ.

Author: Popovich

[ 357 Pa. Super. Page 174]

This is an appeal from a four-million dollar judgment entered against Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital of Philadelphia. We reverse.

We are asked by Hahnemann to review the denial of its motion for a new trial. In doing so, we must decide whether there was an abuse of discretion or error of law committed by the trial court which controlled the outcome of the case. Allison v. Snelling & Snelling, Inc., 425 Pa. 519, 229 A.2d 861 (1967).

So viewed, the evidence reveals that Harry B. Mohn admitted himself to Hahnemann Hospital, upon the advice of his physician, for the evaluation of certain neurological problems. Tests were conducted and indicated that he was suffering from cervical spondylosis, an arthritic condition of the neck. In an attempt to stabilize his condition and prevent the progression of his arthritis, surgery was performed.

No one disputes that the services performed by the hospital before, during and after the operation, up to a point, were medically proper. The matter in dispute concerns the medical care provided to Mohn between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. on the 11th of May, 1973. During this period, Mohn was in the hospital's intensive care unit following surgery, and, sometime between 6:00-7:00 a.m., he suffered a "respiratory arrest". He was resuscitated after an emergency code call, but became quadriplegic (paralyzed in all four limbs) immediately subsequent to the respiratory attack. Thereafter, he improved somewhat to his present, permanent condition diagnosed as quadriparesis (weakness in all limbs). Also, Mohn sustained a visual impairment which inhibits his vision to the area above an imaginary

[ 357 Pa. Super. Page 175]

    equator across his eyes. Further, Mohn contracted speaking and swallowing problems, a condition related to his pseudo-bulbar (muscular control) palsy, from the arrest and the efforts to resuscitate him.

At trial, Mohn's expert testified that his review of the record indicated that the hospital's failure to act in the face of certain information, e.g., detection of decreased urine output by Mohn, x-ray findings (which showed early pulmonary edema -- fluid in the lungs) and blood results between 2:00-3:00 a.m. -- which were abnormal and demonstrated development of metabolic acidosis (inability of heart to pump fluid to kidneys), was not in accordance with accepted medical practice. This "do nothing" approach, opined the expert, precipitated a deterioration in Mohn's condition and led to the respiratory arrest, a result which could have been avoided had appropriate measures been taken early on.

The hospital, through its experts, contended that it did not depart from accepted medical practice, and that Mohn's infirmities (motor problems -- weakness in all four extremities, loss of sensation, spasticity, etc.) were "nothing other than the natural progression of his pre-existing disease." As for the arrest, it was the opinion of the hospital's experts that, rather than caused by the congestive heart failure, it was attributed to "probably mucous plug aspiration possibly on top of some underlying soft tissue."

As properly characterized by Mohn in his brief to us, the case reduced itself to a "battle of experts" on the issues of negligence and causation. The jury, after hearing from all sides, and being instructed by the court on the law, returned a verdict in favor of Mohn and his wife (for her loss of consortium claim) in the amount of $1,776,000.00 and $1,175,000.00, respectively. Pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P. 238, damages for delay were added and the verdicts were molded to $2,440,175.33 for Mohn and $1,614,417.80 for his wife. Post-verdict motions were filed and denied. After the verdict was reduced to judgment, this appeal followed.

Hahnemann Hospital complains that the trial court committed reversible error in allowing ...


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