Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II

Decision Date09 April 1998
Citation956 P.2d 960,327 Or. 9
PartiesRobert CURTIS, Respondent on Review, v. MRI IMAGING SERVICES II, an Oregon limited partnership, and ABCT, Inc., an Oregon corporation, Petitioners on Review, and North Lincoln Hospital Health District dba North Lincoln Hospital, an Oregon non-profit corporation, Defendant. CC 941288; CA A92095; SC S44395.
CourtOregon Supreme Court

Alexander Gordon, Portland, argued the cause and filed the petition for petitioners on review.

J. Michael Alexander, of Burt, Swanson, Lathen, Alexander, McCann & Smith, P.C., Salem, argued the cause for respondent on review.


GILLETTE, Justice.

In this tort action, plaintiff sought damages from corporate medical providers for psychological injuries that allegedly resulted from a negligently performed diagnostic test. Pursuant to ORCP 21, the trial court entered judgment for defendants on the pleadings. Noting that plaintiff had alleged only psychological injuries, the court concluded that plaintiff's claim actually was for negligent infliction of emotional distress--a claim that the trial judge did not believe existed in this state. The Court of Appeals reversed. Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II, 148 Or.App. 607, 941 P.2d 602 (1997). We allowed defendants' petition for review to consider whether, despite its failure to allege any physical injury, plaintiff's complaint nevertheless states a valid claim. We conclude that it does and, accordingly, affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

For purposes of the issue before us, we accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true. See Sager v. McClenden, 296 Or. 33, 35, 672 P.2d 697 (1983) (stating principle). Briefly, the complaint alleges that plaintiff arranged to undergo an MRI, 1 that defendants, two Oregon corporations, administered the test, and that, in doing so, defendants were negligent in the following particulars:

"1. In failing to properly explain the nature of the MRI procedure to the Plaintiff prior to instituting such procedure, particularly in failing to warn the Plaintiff of the possible claustrophobic effects of the MRI;

"2. In failing to take an adequate medical and psychological history from the Plaintiff, including the history of a pre-existing asthmatic condition;

"3. In failing to properly monitor the progress of the Plaintiff during the course of the MRI procedure; and

"4. In failing to promptly terminate the MRI procedure when Plaintiff complained of difficulties with breathing, and indicated a desire for the procedure to end."

The complaint further alleges that plaintiff became extremely distressed during the procedure, that his distress was exacerbated by his pre-existing asthma, and that, ultimately, defendants' negligent performance of the test resulted in "permanent psychological damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder with anxious mood, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia."

In their answer, defendants denied most of what plaintiff had alleged. Defendants also asserted an "affirmative defense," viz., that the allegations of the complaint, although evidently directed toward stating a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, were insufficient for that purpose, because they did not allege an actual or threatened physical injury or injury to another legally protected interest. Before trial, defendants raised that same argument in a motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to ORCP 21.

In response to that motion, plaintiff acknowledged that the right to recover for negligently caused emotional distress is limited in this state. Nevertheless, he argued that his complaint stated a valid claim, because (among other things) defendants had infringed on a "legally protected interest" that was distinct from a person's general interest in freedom from emotional distress. That interest, plaintiff argued, arose out of defendants' and plaintiff's relationship as medical provider and patient. Ultimately, the trial court rejected that argument and granted defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings.

As noted, on plaintiff's appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. The court began by noting that, although evidence of an accompanying physical injury generally is required, negligent infliction of emotional distress is actionable without physical injury, if the negligent conduct infringed on some "legally protected interest" apart from causing the claimed emotional distress. See Hammond v. Central Lane Communications Center, 312 Or. 17, 22-24, 816 P.2d 593 (1991) (stating that standard). After examining the relevant case law, the Court of Appeals concluded that the phrase, "legally protected interest," refers to a duty that goes beyond or is distinct from the general duty that this court described in Fazzolari v. Portland School Dist. No. 1J, 303 Or. 1, 734 P.2d 1326 (1987), to avoid foreseeable injuries. The court then held that the duty that arose out of defendants' relationship with plaintiff in this case met the Hammond requirement:

"We conclude that the relationship between plaintiff and defendant medical professionals, as alleged in the complaint, does give rise to such an actionable 'legally protected interest.' Obviously, an action for malpractice and, particularly, failure to obtain informed consent, sounds, at least in part, in negligence. Just as obviously, a medical professional's standard of care toward his or her patients--and liability for breach of that standard--transcends mere Fazzolari foreseeability. That is, the relationship between medical professionals and their patients, of the sort alleged in this case, imposes a duty on the care providers that goes beyond the general common-law duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm."

Curtis, 148 Or.App. at 618, 941 P.2d 602. The Court of Appeals then concluded that, because the complaint thus alleged an invasion of a distinct "legally protected interest" and the alleged invasion was of a sufficient magnitude, the absence of any allegation of physical injury did not defeat plaintiff's claim. Id. at 620-22, 941 P.2d 602.

In their petition to this court, defendants argue that the Court of Appeals' holding represents an unwarranted expansion of the notion that invasion of a distinct "legally protected interest" will justify recovery for negligently inflicted emotional distress. Defendants insist that the "legally protected interests" described in Hammond and its progeny are only those that exist apart from the societal relationship in which the parties find themselves. From that premise, defendants maintain that the present action is not one from the limited category of negligent infliction of emotional distress actions that can be maintained without a showing of physical injury.

Although the parties argue this case on the battleground labeled negligent infliction of emotional distress, we see it from a different perspective. In our view, the most obvious claim stated by the pleadings is a straightforward claim for medical malpractice. Although that characterization of the claim does not relieve this court of its responsibility to explain why purely psychological harm might be actionable in this case, it does provide the more appropriate vehicle for resolving the issue that is before us.

Recently, in Zehr v. Haugen, 318 Or. 647, 653-54, 871 P.2d 1006 (1994), this court described the elements that must be pleaded and proved in a medical malpractice claim: (1) a duty that runs from the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a resulting harm to the plaintiff measurable in damages; and (4) a causal link between the breach and the harm. (Citi...

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41 cases
    • United States
    • Oregon Court of Appeals
    • October 6, 2010
    ...emotional distress damages, prior case law from this court and the Supreme Court does not support that view. Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II, 327 Or. 9, 956 P.2d 960 (1998), is particularly instructive. The issue there was whether the plaintiff could recover damages from medical providers......
  • Giulio v. BV Centercal, LLC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Oregon
    • September 6, 2011
    ...Id. See generally Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II, 148 Or.App. 607, 614, 941 P.2d 602 (1997) aff'd. on other grounds, 327 Or. 9, 956 P.2d 960 (1998). As to the third exception, “the critical inquiry becomes whether the kind of interest invaded is of sufficient importance as a matter of po......
  • Shin v. Sunriver Preparatory School, Inc.
    • United States
    • Oregon Court of Appeals
    • April 27, 2005
    ...for emotional distress." Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II, 148 Or.App. 607, 620, 941 P.2d 602 (1997), aff'd on other grounds, 327 Or. 9, 956 P.2d 960 (1998) (citing Collver v. Salem Insurance Agency, Inc., 132 Or.App. 52, 66, 887 P.2d 836 (1994), rev. den., 320 Or. 598, 891 P.2d 1 (1995), ......
  • Stevens v. First Interstate Bank
    • United States
    • Oregon Court of Appeals
    • May 17, 2000
    ...summary judgment if it could otherwise support the recovery of emotional distress damages only. Cf. Curtis v. MRI Imaging Services II, 327 Or. 9, 13-14, 956 P.2d 960 (1998) ("characterization of the claim does not relieve [the] court of its responsibility to explain why purely psychological......
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