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06/17/97 ANNE L. ALLEN A/K/A NANCY ALLEN v.

June 17, 1997

ANNE L. ALLEN A/K/A NANCY ALLEN, AN INCOMPETENT, BY WALTER E. ALLEN AND ANNE M. ALLEN, HER GUARDIANS, AND WALTER E. ALLEN AND ANNE M. ALLEN IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, APPELLEES
v.
MONTGOMERY HOSPITAL AND PAUL R. CASEY, JR., M.D., APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court dated December 19, 1995 at No. 3129 Phila. 94, reversing the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Civil Division at 83-16964. JUDGE(S) BELOW: CCP - Honorable William T. Nicholas / SUPERIOR - MCEWEN, JOHNSON, BROSKY, JJ.

Appeal from the Judgment of the Superior Court entered on December 19, 1995 at 3129PHL94 reversing the order entered on August 18, 1994 and remanding to the Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Civil Division at 83-16964. Before: Flaherty, C.j., And Zappala, Cappy, Castille, Nigro And Newman, JJ. Mr. Justice Nigro files a Dissenting opinion.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castille

OPINION OF THE COURT

JUSTICE CASTILLE

DECIDED: June 17, 1997

The sole issue on appeal is whether the immunity provisions of the Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 P.S. § 7101, et seq., apply to hospitals and doctors who provide medical care to a mentally ill patient pursuant to a contract with a mental hospital. Because we hold that the immunity provisions of the Mental Health Procedures Act apply to doctors and hospitals in such a situation, we reverse the order of the Superior Court and reinstate the order of the trial court entering judgment in favor of appellants on the verdict of the jury.

The relevant facts are that on August 11, 1980, appellee Anne L. Allen ("the patient") was admitted for in-patient treatment at Norristown State Hospital for treatment of mental retardation and psychosis after she suffered an adverse reaction to her medication that made it difficult for her parents to control her behavior. On November 30, 1982, the patient was transferred to Montgomery Hospital for treatment of certain physical ailments pursuant to a contractual agreement through which Montgomery Hospital would provide medical treatment for mental patients from Norristown State Hospital. Dr. Paul Casey, Jr., was the patient's attending physician at Montgomery Hospital. The initial diagnosis was that the patient was suffering from dehydration and a fever. The patient was admitted to a private room on the orthopedic floor of Montgomery Hospital.

Suspecting the patient's physical problems were caused by a reaction to medication prescribed for her mental problems, Dr. Casey removed the patient from all but one of her prescribed psychotropic drugs. While hospitalized at Montgomery Hospital, the patient was kept in a posey vest restraint. *fn1 A posey restraint had also been employed to secure the patient at Norristown State Hospital in the weeks prior to her transfer to Montgomery Hospital. The patient's physical condition improved following her treatment and she was scheduled to be returned to Norristown State Hospital on December 6, 1982. However, on December 5, 1982 at 2:00 a.m., a nurse at Montgomery Hospital discovered the patient hanging about six (6) inches above the floor between the side-rails and her bed with the posy restraint around her neck. The patient had managed to free one arm from the restraint and had apparently attempted to get out of the bed. The nurse called for aid in freeing the patient from the restraint and administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. The patient survived but tragically suffered permanent brain damage due to lack of oxygen.

On November 11, 1984, the patient's parents filed a complaint against Montgomery Hospital and Dr. Casey (collectively, the "appellants") for medical negligence. *fn2 Appellants filed a Motion in Limine requesting that the immunity provisions of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. § 7101, et seq., be applied to the proceedings. Specifically, appellants claimed that they were immune from liability under Section 114 of the MHPA, 50 P.S. § 7114, unless their actions in treating the patient were found to constitute willful misconduct or gross negligence. The trial court granted the motion and certified the issue for interlocutory appeal to the Superior Court. However, the Superior Court declined to accept the appeal, and this Court denied allocatur. 530 Pa. 659, 609 A.2d 167 (1992).

The case then proceeded to trial, and the jury was instructed, pursuant to the MHPA, that a verdict could only be entered in favor of appellees if the jury found that appellants' actions in treating the patient amounted to gross negligence. *fn3 The jury returned a verdict in favor of appellants because it found that neither of appellants were grossly negligent in their treatment of the patient. Appellees filed post-trial motions which were denied. Appellees then filed a timely appeal. On December 19, 1995, a three Judge panel of the Superior Court, with one Judge Dissenting, reversed and remanded the matter for a new trial because it held that the trial court erred in determining that the immunity provisions of the MHPA applied. *fn4 On May 29, 1996, we granted allocatur in order to decide if the immunity provision found in Section 114 of the MHPA, 50 P.S. § 7114, applies to physicians and doctors and hospitals who provide medical care for a physical ailment to a mental patient pursuant to a contract with a mental health care facility.

Appellees argue that Section 114 of the MHPA does not provide appellants with immunity because it only applies to treatment which is specifically directed to treating the patient's mental illness and not to treatment for physical ailments. Appellants, however, argue that the immunity provision of the MHPA applies to hospitals and doctors who provide medical care for physical ailments to mental patients pursuant to a contract with a mental health facility. Our determination of which interpretation is correct depends upon our analysis of the controlling statutory language.

When reviewing a statute, we are guided by the Statutory Construction Act. See 1 Pa. C.S. § 1501 et seq. The object of all statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. 1 Pa. C.S. § 1921(a). When ascertaining the legislative intent, it is presumed that the General Assembly did not intend a result that is absurd, impossible of execution or unreasonable. Also, if possible, the statute must be construed to give effect to all of its provisions. Id. Moreover, the provisions of a statute must be liberally interpreted to effect its object and to promote Justice. 1 Pa. C.S. § 1928(b) (providing that statutes which do not fall within the classes of statutes established in subsection (b), none of which apply here, shall be liberally construed). *fn5

In 1976, the General Assembly enacted the MHPA to provide procedures and treatment for the mentally ill in this Commonwealth. The policy of the MHPA is set forth in Section 102, which provides, in pertinent part:

It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to seek to assure the availability of adequate treatment to persons who are mentally ill, and it is the purpose of this act to establish procedures whereby this policy can be effected. The provisions of this act shall be interpreted in conformity with the principles of due process to make voluntary and involuntary treatment available where the need is great and its absence could result in serious harm to the mentally ill person or to others. Treatment on a voluntary basis shall ...


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