Bradshaw v. Iowa Methodist Hospital

Decision Date09 February 1960
Docket NumberNo. 49886,49886
Citation251 Iowa 375,101 N.W.2d 167
PartiesRonald BRADSHAW, Appellee, v. IOWA METHODIST HOSPITAL, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Bannister, Carpenter, Ahlers & Cooney, Des Moines, for appellant.

Lex Hawkins, Des Moines, for appellee.

GARFIELD, Justice.

Ronald Bradshaw brought this law action against Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines to recover for personal injuries allegedly resulting from a fall in the physiotherapy room of the hospital where plaintiff was a patient March 30, 1957. The only specification of negligence submitted to the jury is that defendant was negligent in leaving plaintiff unattended when its employees knew or should have known he was in such condition that he needed constant attention under the circumstances then existing. Trial resulted in jury verdict and judgment for plaintiff of $79,025.94. Defendant has appealed.

Plaintiff, 38 on March 30, 1957, married with two children, is a millwright who worked at the Maytag plant in Newton from January to September, 1956. On September 21 he fell to the floor of the plant on his back and hip. About a week later he started getting burning pain in his back and calf of his leg. He worked three days and then saw Dr. Bakody, a neurosurgeon in Des Moines. October 20, 1956, Dr. Bakody removed a protruded intervertebral disc at the fifth lumbar interspace. He and the Newton doctor accepted the fall on September 21 as the reliable cause of this protrusion.

October 28, following the operation, plaintiff was discharged from defendant hospital to go home. For about two weeks in November and December he was a patient at Mercy hospital in Des Moines because of numbness in his right side. In January (1957) Dr. Bakody told plaintiff he could return to the Maytag plant to do light work for three to six months. However, Maytag then had no such work for him.

March 21, 1957, plaintiff entered defendant hospital again. His back was very sore and he couldn't sleep. He was given whirlpool hot baths daily in the physiotherapy department. In his room on the morning of March 27 he had 'sort of a dizzy spell, felt kind of lightheaded and asked the nurse if the medicine she was giving caused it.' In the afternoon of March 29 plaintiff had another dizzy spell in his room. He told another nurse about it and asked if it could be connected with the heart. The next morning plaintiff felt 'kind of dizzy, a little bit lightheaded,' but walked to the physiotherapy room on the floor below for his daily whirlpool bath.

The temperature gauge in the water tank was eight degrees above normal and plaintiff felt hot and 'kind of dizzy.' He told this to the girl who filled the tank and she in turn called Mr. Peters, supervisor of the department, who adjusted some valves to lower the water temperature. When plaintiff was removed from the tank he told the girl he felt a little dizzy and was 'awful hot.' Mr. Blodgett, an employee in the department, together with an aid, put plaintiff on a table. Blodgett dried him off, helped him on with his pajamas and had him stand on the floor to pull them up.

He was then in a booth with a curtain drawn around it. In addition to the long table on which plaintiff was placed, a small table and chair were inside the curtain. Mr. Peters left plaintiff unattended and said he would be back after plaintiff finished dressing. Plaintiff got 'sort of a dizzy spell, * * * tried to grab hold of the chair to hang on and fell from the chair' to the terrazzo floor after apparently fainting. When plaintiff fell he lit on his left shoulder and may have gone flat on his back. It is the claimed damage resulting from this fall for which recovery is sought herein.

Plaintiff testifies he remembered nothing after his fall until a Mrs. Scott, who was in the physiotherapy room, called that a man needed help. Peters and Blodgett helped plaintiff up and he was returned to his room in a wheelchair. He was discharged from defendant hospital five days later. Plaintiff says that after his fall the lower part of his back hurt an awful lot more.

About two weeks after he was discharged from defendant hospital plaintiff was a patient in a Chicago hospital a few days because of severe pains in his thigh and leg. In July (1957) Dr. Bakody sent plaintiff to Mercy hospital in Des Moines for X-rays of his back. In August he was at the Mayo clinic in Rochester. Thanksgiving week plaintiff went to Broadlawns hospital in Des Moines for about two weeks. December 18, 1957, Doctors Johnson and Miller at Mayos operated on plaintiff's back, removed a protruded, degenerated disc at the fourth lumbar interspace and fused the back with bone grafted from plaintiff's shin, covering the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae and the sacrum.

I. Plaintiff contends his fall in defendant hospital on March 30 was a proximate cause of the condition the Mayo doctors found the following December 18. Defendant's first assignment of error is that the evidence is insufficient to warrant a finding for plaintiff on this issue. In considering this and the second assigned error of course we must view the testimony in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Priebe v. Kossuth County Agricultural Ass'n, 251 Iowa ----, 99 N.W.2d 292, 293, and citations.

Dr. Johnson, the Mayo surgeon, asked by a long hypothetical question to express his opinion whether there would be causal connection between the fall on March 30 and the condition he found in December, testified 'I think there could be.' Standing alone this is insufficient proof of the claimed causal connection. Such an answer is usually held to indicate only a possibility, rather than probability, of the alleged causal relation and hence insufficient. See Chenoweth v. Flynn, 251 Iowa ----, 99 N.W.2d 310, 313; Rose v. John Deere Ottumwa Works, 247 Iowa 900, 910, 76 N.W.2d 756, 761; Boswell v. Kearns Garden Chapel Funeral Home, 227 Iowa 344, 351, 288 N.W. 402, and citations; Annotation, 135 A.L.R. 516, 517.

However, we have held such expert evidence as that given here is sufficient to warrant submitting to the jury the issue of proximate cause when coupled with other testimony, nonexpert in nature, that plaintiff was not afflicted with any sch condition prior to the accident in question. Rose v. John Deere Ottumwa Works, supra, and citations; Chenoweth v. Flynn, supra. See also Annotaion, 135 A.L.R. 516, 532, et seq. Plaintiff contends there is such other evidence here.

In the Rose case [247 Iowa 900, 910, 76 N.W.2d 761] the doctor who attended plaintiff part of the time he was disabled testified his codition was the result of trauma and 'could have been caused' by such an injury as plaintiff said he suffered. Plaintiff stated the injury was the only one he ever received, his back never troubled him before and, in effect, never ceased to trouble him thereafter although his work was much lighter than before. We held that under the combined testimony of the doctor and plaintiff his disability was caused by the injury.

In Chenoweth v. Flynn, supra, one of the doctors who treated plaintiff testified an ulcer on a foot is usually the result of trauma and the accident could cause the ulcerated condition for which he treated her. Plaintiff said she never had foot trouble prior to her accident, was then bruised, within a few days a seepage developed and she constantly suffered pain. We held a jury question was created on the issue of causation, citing Rose v. John Deere Ottumwa Works, supra.

We think plaintiff's case is considerably less strong than the Chenoweth and Rose cases, it does not appear the fall in defendant's hospital on March 30 was the probable cause of the condition Dr. Johnson found on December 18 and the finding of such causal connection could not be reached without resort to speculation or conjecture.

Dr. Johnson himself testified it is entirely possible plaintiff's difficulty could have gone back many years, a protruded disc can result from numerous causes such as acute trauma, repetitious trauma of heavy labor without specific accident, people who do heavy lifting and bending for years have them when they lift that one more time, but generally degeneration or wear and tear itself, without any other trauma or blow, does not result in a ruptured disc. For about 13 years before plaintiff fell at Maytags he did heavy lifting and bending.

Plaintiff's witness Dr. Bakody, the neurosurgeon whom plaintiff consulted and who performed the first disc operation, testified on cross-examination there is no question but what injury can bring on a protruded disc but as many as one-third such cases have no injury, one who does heavy lifting over a period of time could have a protruded disc because of such work, without any injury, he had a patient develop a protrusion from picking up a newspaper. Dr. Bakody was not asked to express an opinion upon the causal relation between the fall on March 30 and the condition found on December 18. And plaintiff did not call as a witness either Dr. McGarvey or Dr. Schupp who, along with Dr. Bakody, treated plaintiff throughout most of the time following his fall at Maytags.

Dr. Thornton, an orthopedic surgeon, at the request of defendant's attorney, examined plaintiff and took his history about two months before the trial. He expressed the opinion plaintiff was hving trouble at the time he fell, the fall merely made the diagnosis more apparent, the fall alone did not cause the last disc nor result in his having to undergo the fusion operation and that would probably have resulted even without the fall. On cross-examination he admitted it is possible such a fall would be sufficient to cause a ruptured disc.

Plaintiff strongly relies upon Dr. Bakody's testimony that at the time of the first operation on October 20, 1956, he found no reptured disc between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae. However this was five months and ten days before the fall in defendant hospital and 14 months before the...

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