Adams v. University Hospital

Decision Date14 January 1907
Citation122 Mo. App. 675,99 S.W. 453
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Appeal from Circuit Court, Jackson County; John G. Park, Judge.

Action by John Quincy Adams against the University Hospital. Judgment for plaintiff. Defendant appeals. Reversed.

Boyle, Guthrie & Smith, for appellant. Haff & Michaels, L. W. McCandless, and D. C. Ketchum, for respondent.


The plaintiff was a patient at the defendant's hospital whither he had gone to have a surgical operation performed upon him. While yet under the influence of an anesthetic administered for the purpose of the operation and after the performance of the operation, he was placed in the charge and care of one or more of defendant's nurses, who, it is charged, were not competent, and by reason thereof they permitted him to be severely burned on the legs by rubber bottles filled with hot water whereby he was painfully and permanently injured. He brought the present action against the defendant for damages and prevailed in the trial court.

Serious injury to plaintiff was shown, and the defendant's main contention is that it is a benevolent or charitable institution and as such is not liable to an action for damages caused by the acts of its employés; that, as such an institution, it is exempt from application of the doctrine of respondeat superior. Defendant insists that it is neither liable for the negligence of its servants, nor for its own negligence, if any, in undertaking to select competent servants. Upon the other hand, the plaintiff contends that there is liability, if there was negligence either of the servant, or of the defendant in selecting a competent servant.

We will say, at the outset, that, if defendant's liability is to be ascribed to the negligence of its nurses, the manner of his injury was such as to authorize the rule of res ipsa loquitur to be invoked. Olsen v. Ry. Co., 152 Mo. 426, 54 S. W. 470; Johnson v. Railway Co., 104 Mo. App. 588, 78 S. W. 275; Dougherty v. Railway Co., 9 Mo. App. 478. And if such liability is to be based upon the negligence of defendant in selecting competent nurses that rule will also apply. For, in either case, the injury is, of itself, a sufficient showing, unexplained, that it resulted from one or the other of these sources of negligence, and we see no reason why the defendant (if liable at all) should not be held to be obliged to exculpate itself by showing, in the latter instance, that it had used proper care in the selection of its nurses, as it would in the former by showing that the nurses had not themselves been negligent. If the questions made in this case have been heretofore decided in this state, it has escaped our attention. No case has been cited. That of Murtaugh v. City of St. Louis, 44 Mo. 479, involved the liability of a municipality for injuries received in a city hospital, and it was held that the city was not liable. The decision is put upon the ground that a city is not liable for acts of its officers in administering a corporate franchise conferred for the general public good. That of Haggerty v. Railway Co., 100 Mo. App. 424, 74 S. W. 456, did not involve the question of the exemption of charitable institutions. The St. Louis Court of Appeals ruled that a department organized by the railway company, known as the "relief department," was not a charity, but that it was merely a business arrangement of the employés of the company.

The question as presented here relates to the liability of a private, or quasi private, charity for damages caused by the negligent acts of its employés, or by its own negligent act in employing incompetent employés. We will assume that the evidence tends to show the plaintiff was injured either by the negligence of one of defendant's nurses or by her incompetence. If by the latter, we will assume, for the purpose of disposing of the case, that there is enough in the record to justify a verdict that the defendant was careless in selecting her. But as, in our opinion, the defendant is neither liable for the negligence of one of its employés, nor for its own negligence in selecting an incompetent employé, it can make no difference which of the two acts caused the injury. Every member of the public is interested in the building up and maintenance of a charitable institution designed for the alleviation of human suffering, and every one may be supposed to be concerned in such institution, and to be a party to a line of action or conduct which would disable every other from doing anything which has a tendency to prevent the institution from performing the functions intended by its founder. The state itself is concerned that its citizens may be restored to health, and to that end may have places always open where those in need may obtain relief. So it may be said that any citizen who accepts the service of such institution (it making no difference whether in any special instance he pays his way) does so upon the ground, or the implied assurance, that he will assert no complaint which has for its object, or perhaps we should say, for its result, a total or partial destruction of the institution itself. If an organization for charitable purposes founded upon the bounty of others who supply funds for the purpose of administering relief to those in need of relief, and of extending aid, care, and protection to those who have no one to call upon by the ties of nature, may have its funds diverted from such kindly purpose, would it not inevitably operate to close the purses of the generous and benevolent who now do much to relieve the suffering of mankind? Let us see what the practical result might be. With a view to supplying care, protection, and education to dependent children without parents, some good man puts in trust for building an orphans' home the sum of $25,000, and for its perpetual maintenance the further sum of $100,000, to be put at interest or otherwise invested. The trustees may unfortunately, without proper inquiry or care, employ an incompetent servant. That servant, in the first year's existence of the home, may, from ignorance, or from negligence, do, or omit to do, something causing damage which, under our liberal measure of compensation for personal injuries, would be sufficient to take up the whole fund, and thus, for a single mishap, the generous object of the donor would be thwarted, and what was intended as perpetual relief to succeeding generations of helpless children would be wiped out. That funds supporting organizations for charity cannot be thus diverted, in other words, that charitable institutions or corporations are not liable for the negligence of an employé, nor for the want of care in the selection of an employé, is sustained by authority and by reason.

The question arose in England, and was decided in the House of Lords. Heriot's Hospital v. Ross, 12 Clark & F. 507. In that case Heriot, a jeweler, by his will, in the year 1623, left a large part of his estate to certain officers of the city of Edinburgh in perpetuity for founding and maintaining a hospital for the "maintenance, relief, bringing up, and education of so many poor fatherless boys, freemen's sons of that town, as the means which I give, and the yearly value of the lands so purchased shall amount and come unto." The hospital was to be governed by rules formulated by a certain doctor named in the will. The rules, as framed, admitted to the hospital boys between certain ages. More than 200 years after it was founded, a boy, alleging that he was wrongfully excluded, brought his action against the feoffees of the hospital in their official capacity, for damages. Opinions of Lords Cottenham, Brougham, and Campbell are reported which are remarkable for the vigor with which they assail the proposition that the funds of a charity may be diverted to the payment of damages for malfeasance of the trustees. Lord Campbell pronounced the suggestion that persons damaged could be indemnified out of the trust fund to be "contrary to all reason, and justice, and common sense." He stated that there was "not any authority, not a single shred to support" such view of the law. In reversing the decree of the lower court he further stated that "it is to be hoped that we shall never again hear of a decision like the present, contrary to reason, sense and justice." In the course of their opinions, the judges refer as authority to the case of Duncan v. Findlater, 6 Clark & F. 894. That case has been overruled in Mersey Docks v. Gibbs, L. R. 1 H. L. 117 (same case in 11 H. L. Cas. 720; 1 Eng. and Irish Appeal Cas. 93), and...

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