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November 26, 1997


Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County, Civil Division at No. 92-CP-452. Before CARPENTER, J.

Before: Popovich, Saylor and Olszewski, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Popovich


Filed November 26, 1997

This is an appeal from the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County in favor of appellees, Dr. Doo W. Cho and Altoona Hospital Center for Mental Health Services (the Hospital). In this case, summary judgment was granted on the grounds that appellant's cause of action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations and that the discovery rule did not toll the statute of limitations. Upon review, we affirm.

Herein, appellant, Betty J. Haggart, questions whether her cause of action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Appellant's Brief p. vi. Haggart argues that the motions for summary judgment should have been denied because: 1) The trial Judge was incorrect in finding that the statute of limitations began to run in March of 1988, since the therapist-patient relationship did not end until May of 1990; and 2) The trial Judge should have allowed a jury to consider whether the phenomenon of transference prevented Haggart from discovering the salient facts of her mistreatment until February of 1991, when she learned about transference from another therapist.

The trial court summarized the relevant facts underlying appellant's action in its opinion as follows:

The Plaintiff, Betty J. Haggart, began treatment with Dr. Cho on January 30, 1986, as a result of the Physician Referral Service at Altoona Hospital. During the course of her treatment under Dr. Cho, which lasted until May 3, 1990, Dr. Cho saw Mrs. Haggart in his private office over 50 times and also hospitalized Mrs. Haggart at the Altoona Hospital on three separate occasions: November 3, 1987 to November 12, 1987; March 7, 1988 to March 23, 1988; and March 5, 1990 to March 6, 1990. Mrs. Haggart also consulted Dr. Cho during an orthopedic admission to the Altoona Hospital which occurred from January 20, 1988 to January 23, 1988. According to the Plaintiff, the therapy sessions with Dr. Cho involved what she later perceived to be inappropriate intimate sexual contact and behavior on the part of Dr. Cho toward Mrs. Haggart. The alleged sexual conduct included prolonged touching of Mrs. Haggart's genitalia by Dr. Cho on two occasions and ongoing kissing, hugging and caressing which continued periodically until the end of the treatment in May of 1990. Mrs. Haggart was able to connect certain of these behaviors with a specific time. She testified at deposition that during her hospitalization in March of 1988, Dr. Cho, on at least two occasions, attempted to examine her breasts and abdomen area which bothered her very much and caused her to pull away from him (see deposition of Betty J. Haggart at pp. 243-247). Also, Mrs. Haggart described an occasion in January of 1988 where during an office visit Dr. Cho placed Mrs. Haggart's hand between his legs to show her that he had an erection (see deposition of Betty J. Haggart pp. 203-205). It is alleged that Mrs. Haggart willingly engaged in the sexual activity because she was in love with Dr. Cho. At the time those incidents took place, Mrs. Haggart purportedly did not perceive Dr. Cho's behavior towards her as harmful since she felt that he made her feel like a woman, that he cared about her, and that she was very special to Dr. Cho. The Plaintiff asserts that the visits with Dr. Cho were the high points of her week and she lived from week to week to see Dr. Cho (see deposition of Betty J. Haggart p. 241). Mrs. Haggart asserts that she was seeing Dr. Cho partly for depression and was harboring feelings of self guilt over problems she was having with her husband for which she felt she was the cause. Mrs. Haggart states that Dr. Cho acted toward her like a good friend, reassuring her that she was not the cause of her marital problems. It was on one such occasion that Dr. Cho allegedly placed her hand on his erection which Mrs. Haggart found to be a pleasurable experience (see deposition of Betty J. Haggart p. 211 and pp. 203-205). When asked in her deposition how she felt about Dr. Cho Mrs. Haggart responded, "... he was my god, . . . He was my savior. Dr. Cho would never let anything happen, he promised me that. . . ." (Deposition of Betty J. Haggart p. 259). Mrs. Haggart's treatment under Dr. Cho ended on May 3, 1990, when she, against Dr. Cho's advice, terminated her final hospitalization at Altoona Hospital. She did not return to Dr. Cho for further treatment due to the fact that she could no longer afford Dr. Cho's services.

On November 13, 1990, Mrs. Haggart was seen by another doctor at the Altoona Hospital Mental Health Center and an evaluation of her continuing depression occurred. On November 21, 1990, Mrs. Haggart began counseling with an assigned therapist at the Altoona Hospital Mental Health Center. On or about February 26, 1991, Mrs. Haggart contends that she began to reveal to her therapist what had occurred while she was under the care of Dr. Cho. On or about January 1991, Mrs. Haggart claims that, through the assistance and treatment of her therapist, she came to learn that what she thought was a pure emotional relationship between her and Dr. Cho was, in fact, a result of her underlying psychiatric problem and the manner in which Dr. Cho dealt with her feelings and the nature of his treatment. It is at this point in time that Mrs. Haggart is alleged to have realized the true nature of her relationship with Dr. Cho and the harm he had perpetrated on her through the sexual intimacies they had shared. Mrs. Haggart now contends that her psychiatric condition had worsened as a result of the way in which Dr. Cho had treated her.

Trial Court Opinion pp. 2-6.

On February 26, 1992, Haggart filed suit against Cho and the Hospital by writ of summons. On December 30, 1992, Haggart filed a complaint alleging, inter alia, that she suffered damages as a result of the improper conduct of Cho. Haggart asserted a claim of corporate liability against the Hospital for negligently allowing Cho to treat her when it knew or should have known Cho was not properly trained, certified, experienced, emotionally stable and/or qualified to treat patients. In addition, she alleged that the Hospital violated the Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 P.S. § 7102, et seq. *fn1

Both Cho and the Hospital raised the applicable two-year statute of limitations in their separate answers and new matters. On March 7, 1996, Cho filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the applicable statute of limitations had expired before Haggart filed suit. A similar motion for summary judgment was filed by the Hospital. On November 15, 1996, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Cho and the Hospital. This timely appeal followed.

The standard of review of an order granting summary judgment is well established:

On review of an order granting summary judgment, we must determine whether the moving party has established that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pa.R.C.P. 1035(b). Thompson Coal Co. v. Pike Coal Co., 488 Pa. 198, 412 A.2d 466, 468-69 (1979). In making this determination, we must examine the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, who is entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Pennsylvania Gas & Water Co. v. Nenna & Frain, Inc., 320 Pa. Super. 291, 467 A.2d 330 (1983). All doubts as to the existence of a factual ...

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