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SACKS v. THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIV. HOSP.

May 3, 1988

Pamela Sacks, et al.,
v.
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GILES

 JAMES T. GILES, J.

 Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for alleged failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Daniel and Pamela Sacks, husband and wife, claim that Thomas Jefferson University Hospital was negligent and breached a duty of care to Mrs. Sacks, causing her to sustain certain physical injuries. The hospital asserts that, as a matter of law, it owed no duty to plaintiff and the complaint must be dismissed. I agree.

 In evaluating whether a dismissal is proper under Rule 12(b)(6), "factual allegations of the complaint are to be accepted as true" and "reasonable inferences will be drawn to aid the pleader." D.P. Enterprises v. Bucks County Community College, 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

 The hospital contends that plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed because a hospital owes no duty to a "non-patient" observing treatment of a patient in an emergency room setting. Because the hospital had not undertaken to render services to Mrs. Sacks, it asserts that it cannot be held liable for injuries which it did not cause.

 Mrs. Sacks argues that since defendant, by its agents, permitted her to be present in the treatment room and asked her to assist in holding her daughter's head, she was placed in a situation which created a risk of harm to her and thus created a duty of care on the part of the hospital to protect her. Plaintiff further argues that the hospital assumed a duty of care when she informed defendant's personnel that she was going to faint. Plaintiff contends that this was a request for medical assistance which went unanswered.

 Not every injury is compensable. At a minimum, a defendant must be found to owe a duty of care before it can be held responsible for a failure to exercise that duty reasonably. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 281; Cantwell v. Allegheny County, 506 Pa. 35, 483 A.2d 1350 (1984); Klein v. Council of Chemical Associations, 587 F. Supp. 213, 224 (E.D. Pa. 1984). If based on circumstances for which the law imposes no duty of care, a negligence claim must fail. Duty is perceived as an obligation to which the law will give recognition in order to require one person to conform to a particular standard of conduct with respect to another person. Bradshaw v. Rawlings, 612 F.2d 135, 138 (3d Cir. 1979).

 Instructive in analyzing the circumstances of this case is Section 323 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965), which provides:

 
§ 323 Negligent Performance of Undertaking to Render Services.
 
One who undertakes, gratuitously, or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of other person or things is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if (a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of harm, or (b) the harm is suffered because of the other's reliance upon the undertaking.

 Liability under § 323 can be imposed only upon "one who undertakes . . . to render service to another . . . ." Fabian v. Matzko, 236 Pa. Super. 267, 270-271, 344 A.2d 569 (1975). Applying this section to the facts here, the hospital cannot be held liable for causing Mrs. Sacks to faint or preventing her fall. At no time did the hospital agree to, or undertake to, accept the plaintiff as a patient, nor was a physician-patient relationship ever established. Only the plaintiff's daughter was admitted to the defendant's emergency room. Mrs. Sacks voluntarily entered the treatment room to witness the suturing that had been sought by her for her daughter. By doing so, she accepted the risk that she would witness events or conditions inherent in the medical treatment which could upset her. She was not required to be present nor was she required to hold her daughter's head. Indeed, she abandoned her daughter to leave the room when she felt faint.

 
Negligent performance or nonperformance must increase the risk of harm and . . . there must be reliance by the injured plaintiff upon the defendant's performing ...

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