Espinosa v. Beverly Hospital

Decision Date17 November 1952
Citation114 Cal.App.2d 232,249 P.2d 843
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesESPINOSA et al. v. BEVERLY HOSPITAL et al. Civ. 18978.

Hahn, Ross & Saunders, and Albert Wm. Thomas, Los Angeles, for appellants.

DeForrest Home, Los Angeles, for respondents.

MOORE, Presiding Justice.

Appellant Isabel Espinosa entered respondent hospital under contract to receive obstetric care and services at the birth of her baby. On the third day thereafter respondents delivered to Isabel an infant purporting to be her own. Appellants took such child to their home and cared for it until their discovery that it was the offspring of others. On making known their grievance to respondents, the latter delivered to appellants another child which they asserted was the progeny of appellants.

This action was instituted to recover $50,000 damages allegedly resulting from respondents' negligence in causing 'profound shock to their nervous systems; that they sustained great physical and mental suffering and were made sick, sore and lame.' The jury having returned a verdict in favor of respondents, appellants now seek a reversal of the judgment entered thereon.

The Espinosas' demand is based primarily upon the court's having given the following instruction:

'You are instructed that mental suffering alone will not support an action for damages of this kind. Therefore, if you find that the only injury suffered by plaintiff was mental suffering, then your verdict must be for the defendants and against plaintiffs.

'Unless you find that plaintiffs suffered actual physical injury as the proximate result of defendants' negligence, they cannot recover in this case because fright or mental suffering alone will not sustain a recovery for plaintiffs.'

In addition to this instruction, the court properly addressed the jury upon the issues raised by the pleadings. They were told that 'definite nervous disturbances or disorders caused by mental shock and excitement are classified as physical injuries and will support an action for damages for negligence where they are the proximate result of negligence on the part of the defendants.' It is presumed that if the jury had found such 'disturbances or disorders' to have resulted to appellants or either of them from nervous shock, they would have returned a verdict for appellants. Since the jury did not do so, appellants now seek to subvert the ancient rule that mental suffering alone will not support an action for damages based upon negligence. It cannot be overemphasized that the human body can through negligence of others suffer injury in only two ways: (1) by physical impact, and (2) by shock, through the senses, to the nervous system. A person can suffer both at the same time or he can experience one alone. In either event, actionable mental suffering may result. But merely because a shock to the nervous system is an injury to the body rather than to the mind, Easton v. United Trade School Contracting Company, 173 Cal. 199, 203, 159 P. 597, L.R.A.1917A, 394, it does not necessarily follow that every mental disturbance is cause by a shock to the nervous system. Had the delivery of the wrong baby produced such an impact upon the nervous system of either appellant as to cause physical injuries, the jury were, under their instructions, authorized to award damages for such injuries and to supplement them with damages for mental suffering, anxiety and loss of sleep. The only evidence of injury was the testimony of Mrs. Espinosa that she had severe back and stomach pain and ached all over. Evidently, the jury did not credit such complaints to nervous shock. Because there were no physical injuries, recovery for mental suffering was not authorized. Ibid.; Sloane v. Southern California Railway Company, 111 Cal. 668, 680, 44 P. 320, 32 L.R.A. 193.

Appellants have argued at great length and have cited many authorities to show that damages are recoverable for mental worry and suffering entirely disconnected with physical pain. As to their argument they assume a false major premise while their authrities are at once distinguishable. In Sandoval v. Southern California Enterprises, Inc., 98 Cal.App.2d 240, 219 P.2d 928, and in Bethurum v. Krumm, 109 Cal.App. 5, 292 P. 287, the plaintiff was entitled to recover for injuries brutally administered to his body, and incidentally for mental suffering. In State Rubbish Collectors Association v. Siliznoff, 38 Cal.2d 330, 240 P.2d...

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20 cases
  • Jarchow v. Transamerica Title Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 5 Junio 1975
    ...'impact or injury' standard. In both Gautier v. General Telephone Co., 234 Cal.App.2d 302, 44 Cal.Rptr. 404 and Espinosa v. Beverly Hospital, 114 Cal.App.2d 232, 249 P.2d 843, it was held that negligently caused emotional distress is not compensable unless accompanied by physical injury. In......
  • Shepard v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 19 Diciembre 1977
    ...793, 56 Cal.Rptr. 115; Gautier v. General Telephone Co. (1965) 234 Cal.App.2d 302, 44 Cal.Rptr. 404; Espinosa v. Beverly Hospital (1952) 114 Cal.App.2d 232, 249 P.2d 843). Being well aware that as a matter of history and legal policy the courts had been unwilling to hold the tortfeasor liab......
  • Golden v. Dungan
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 29 Septiembre 1971
    ...804, 808, 42 Cal.Rptr. 314; Perati v. Atkinson (1963) 213 Cal.App.2d 472, 474, 28 Cal.Rptr. 898, and Espinosa v. Beverly Hospital (1952) 114 Cal.App.2d 232, 235, 249 P.2d 843. Note, also, Prosser, Torts (4th ed. 1971) § 12 pp. 49--62; 1 Harper and James, The Law of Torts (1956) §§ 9.1--9.7,......
  • Petition of United States, 7305
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • 3 Noviembre 1969
    ...definite nervous disorder is a "physical injury" sufficient to support an action for damages for negligence. Espinosa v. Beverly Hospital, 114 Cal.App.2d 232, 249 P.2d 843 (1953); Bowman v. Williams, supra; Savard v. Cody Chevrolet, Inc., The condition complained of by Roberts was establish......
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