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Hurd v. Yaeger

August 13, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court for disposition is the a joint motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Robert Packer Hospital, Guthrie Clinic Sayre, Guthrie Health Care System and Thomas A. Yaeger, M.D., as well as a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Bambi Petrinic, M.D. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff Katrina Engle presented to a physician at defendant Guthrie Clinic Sayre ("Clinic") on March 13, 2006. She was approximately twenty-eight weeks pregnant at the time. (Amended Complaint (Doc. 72) at ¶ 13) (hereinafter "Am. Complt."). She complained of abdominal discomfort, cramping, and feeling "like her fetus's head was pushing down." Plaintiff Engle was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent home. (Id.). Later that day, Plaintiff Engle telephoned the Clinic and spoke to a nurse regarding further cramping and vaginal bleeding, but she was told that these symptoms were consistent with a urinary tract infection. (Id. at ¶ 14).

That same evening, Plaintiff Engle visited defendant Robert Packer Hospital ("Hospital") complaining of similar symptoms during an evaluation by defendant Dr. Bambi Petrinic, M.D. (Id. at ¶ 15-18). By telephone, Defendant Petrinic consulted the attending physician on call, Defendant Dr. Thomas A. Yaeger, M.D. (Id. at ¶ 20). Defendant Yaeger relied on Defendant Petrinic's report at the time and did not personally examine Plaintiff Engle. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). Plaintiff Engle was subsequently discharged from the Hospital at 7:30 PM. (Id. at ¶ 23).

At approximately 12:30 AM on March 14, 2006, Plaintiff Engle presented to Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, New York, again with complaints of sharp abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. (Id. at ¶ 24). Upon examination, Plaintiff Engle's cervix was found to be fully dilated. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff Engle went into early labor. (Id.). Minor-Plaintiff Hurd was born early that morning with a host of physical and mental conditions related to his premature birth, including several heart and lung ailments and various developmental deficits. (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 26).

Plaintiffs allege medical malpractice against the defendants for failure to meet the standard of care in treating Plaintiff Engle and Minor-Plaintiff Hurd. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants specifically failed to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of Plaintiff Engle's pre-term labor and dispense tocolytics, or labor-delaying drugs,*fn1 so that Minor-Plaintiff Hurd could develop further in utero through the administration of steroid treatments. (Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Preclude Plaintiffs' Expert Reports and Opinions (Doc. 142) at 6- 10) (hereinafter "Memo. in Opposition").

This case was commenced on September 28, 2006 by way of Complaint. (Doc. 1). On March 24, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint and added a new party, Defendant Petrinic. (Doc. 72). At the close of discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, bringing the case to its present posture.


Minor-Plaintiff Hurd, Plaintiff Engle, and Plaintiff Bryan Hurd are citizens of New York. (Am. Cmplt. at ¶ 1-3). Defendants Yaeger and Petrinic are citizens of Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 4-5). Defendants Robert Packer Hospital, Guthrie Clinic Sayre, and Guthrie Health Care System are corporations or legal entities organized and existing under the laws of Pennsylvania. (Id. at 6-8). The amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. (Id. at ¶ 10). This court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

Standard of Review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.


The defendants' joint motion raises four issues that we will address separately.

1) Theory that the Pregnancy Could have been Extended More Than Forty-Eight (48) Hours

The defendants first argue that they are entitled to summary judgment as to any claims arising from the theory that Katrina Engle's pregnancy could have been extended more than forty-eight hours because no admissible evidence supports this contention.

Defendants' argument is that the evidence that plaintiffs have regarding extending the pregnancy for more than forty-eight hours is inadmissible. We find this argument unconvincing. As set forth in a separate memorandum regarding the motions to strike expert witnesses, we have concluded that the evidence regarding extending the pregnancy beyond forty-eight hours is indeed admissible. For example, Dr. Albert George Thomas testified at his deposition that based upon Katrina Engles' presentation and pathologic findings, she is one of the patients who could have been extended beyond 48 ...

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