Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hospital

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore BELL; MUSMANNO; Paxson; Rutledge; Rutledge; BELL, C. J., and JONES; COHEN; ROBERTS; COHEN; ROBERTS; BELL; DOUGLAS; Owen J. ROBERTS, Pennsylvania's; EAGEN; BLACK; JONES
Citation208 A.2d 193,417 Pa. 486
Decision Date22 March 1965
PartiesMary C. FLAGIELLO and Thomas Flagiello, Appellants, v. The PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL, Marie Pierce and H. Robert Cathcart. Mary C. FLAGIELLO and Thomas Flagiello, Appellants, v. The PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL.

Page 193

208 A.2d 193
417 Pa. 486
Mary C. FLAGIELLO and Thomas Flagiello, Appellants,
v.
The PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL, Marie Pierce and H. Robert Cathcart.
Mary C. FLAGIELLO and Thomas Flagiello, Appellants,
v.
The PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
March 22, 1965.

[417 Pa. 487]

Page 194

Stephen M. Feldman and Joseph G. Feldman, Philadelphia, for appellants.

[417 Pa. 488] John J. Dautrich, Michael H. Malin, White & Williams, Philadelphia, for appellees.

Spencer G. Nauman, Jr., Spencer G. Hall, of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, Harrisburg, amicus curiae, The Hospital Ass'n of Pennsylvania.

[417 Pa. 487] Before BELL, C. J., and MUSMANNO, JONES, COHEN, EAGEN, O'BRIEN and ROBERTS, JJ.

[417 Pa. 488] MUSMANNO, Justice.

Mrs. Mary C. Flagiello was injured in the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia under circumstances which, considering the nature of the legal problem before us, do not at present call for expatiation. It is enough to say that she avers that, through the negligence of two employees of the hospital, she was caused to fall, sustaining in the fall a fracture to her right ankle, and, that this injury, entirely unrelated to the ailment which brought her into the hospital originally, necessitated further hospital and medical care which subjected her husband to great medical expense and inflicted upon her pain and suffering as well as impairment of earning power. She and her husband, Thomas Flagiello, brought an action in trespass against the hospital and the two employees alleged to have been immediately responsible for the accident. The defendant hospital answered that it was an eleemosynary institution engaged in charitable enterprise and, therefore, not responsible in damages to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs replied to the New Matter, declaring that Mrs. Flagiello was not a charity patient but a paying patient in the hospital. The hospital moved for judgment on the pleadings and it was granted. 1

The plaintiffs then instituted an action in assumpsit against the hospital, stating that they had entered into a contract with the hospital whereby they were to pay $24.50 a day for hospital facilities and nursing [417 Pa. 489] care, but that the hospital did not fulfill its obligations under the contract because it failed to provide reasonably fit and adequate care for the wife-plaintiff, as the result of which she sustained fresh injuries and her husband plaintiff was required to pay to the hospital $2,906.68 for medical care and maintenance.

The plaintiffs stated also that the defendant

'carries public liability insurance which covers the present claim and that at least 96% of the state aided hospitals in Pennsylvania carry such public liability insurance. Further, defendant's charitable operations are supported mainly by state aid and from the fees paid by non-charitable patients rather than from private charitable contributions.'

The defendant hospital moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that assumpsit did not lie and that

'under the law of Pennsylvania, the existence of liability insurance or the fact that a patient is a paying patient is of no consequence in denying the eleemosynary nature of the institution.'

The Court granted the motion, and plaintiffs have appealed in both cases, which have been consolidated for consideration here.

The hospital has not denied that its negligence caused Mrs. Flagiello's injuries. It merely announces that it is an eleemosynary institution, and, therefore, owed no duty of care to its patient. It declares in effect that it can do wrong and still not be liable in damages to the person it has wronged. It thus urges a momentous exception to the generic proposition that in

Page 195

law there is no wrong without a remedy. From the earliest days of organized society it became apparent to man that society could never become a success unless the collectivity of mankind guaranteed to every member of society a remedy for a palpable wrong inflicted on him by another member of that society. In 1844 Justice Storrs of the Supreme Court of Connecticut[417 Pa. 490] crystallized into epigrammatic language that wise concept, as follows: 'An injury is a wrong; and for the redress of every wrong there is a remedy: a wrong is a violation of one's right; and for the vindication of every right there is a remedy.' (Parker v. Griswold, 17 Conn. 288, 303.)

The defendant hospital here does not dispute, as it indeed cannot, this fundamental rule of law, but it says that if the plaintiffs are allowed to invoke a remedy for the wrong done them, the enactment of that remedy will impose a financial burden on the hospital. Is that an adequate defense in law?

The owner of a hotel may not plead non-liability in a trespass action because, if it has to make payment, the hotel will be thrown into debt. A municipality cannot escape liability in law by reasoning that taxpayers would protest if it had to pay damages for injuries incurred by a pedestrian who falls into a defect in a negligently maintained street. A transit company cannot avoid payment of damages by explaining that it might be put out of business if it had to pay all the verdicts rendered against it as the result of negligence on the part of its employees.

On what basis then, may a hospital, which expects and receives compensation for its services, demand of the law that it be excused from responding in damages for injuries tortiously inflicted by its employees on paying patients? There is not a person or establishment in all civilization that is not required to meet his or its financial obligations, there is not a person or establishment that is not called upon by the law to render an accounting for harm visited by him or it on innocent victims. By what line of reasoning, then, can any institution, operating commercially, expect the law to insulate it from its debts?

The hospital in this case, together with the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, which has filed a brief [417 Pa. 491] as amicus curiae, replies to that question with various answers, some of which are: it is an ancient rule that charitable hospitals have never been required to recompense patients who have been injured through the negligence of their employees; the rule of stare decisis forbids that charitable hospitals be held liable in trespass cases; if the rule of charitable immunity is to be discarded, this must be done by the State Legislature; and that since hospitals serve the public, there is involved here a matter of public policy which is not within the jurisdiction of the courts.

What is a charitable institution? Charity is defined in Webster's dictionary as:

'Whatever is bestowed gratuitously on the needy or suffering for their relief.'

'Acts of benevolence to the poor.'

Whatever Mrs. Flagiello received in the Pennsylvania Hospital was not bestowed on her gratuitously. She paid $24.50 a day for the services she was to receive. And she paid this amount not only for the period she was to remain in the hospital to be cured of the ailment with which she entered the hospital, but she had to continue to pay that rate for the period she was compelled to remain in the hospital as a result of injuries caused by the hospital itself. 2

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Thus, as a matter of integrity in nomenclature it must be stated that, although the hospitals here under discussion are known as charitable hospitals, it does not follow that they offer their services through the operation of charity. 3 While in no way detracting from [417 Pa. 492] the contribution which these estimable institutions do make toward the alleviation and cure of the ills of mankind, a proper appraisement of the issue on appeal impels the candid statement that the hospitals do receive payment for that contribution, and, where a hospital is compensated for services rendered, it cannot, if language is to mirror reality, truly be called a charity hospital.

In 1960, the Supreme Court of Michigan, in repudiating the immunity rule, said in the case of Parker v. Port Huron Hospital, 361 Michigan 1, 105 N.W.2d 1:

'The old rule of charitable immunity was justified in its time on its own facts. Today we have a new set of facts. It is true that the new facts are still described by the same word in our English language--'charities'--but that is because our language has not changed as the facts of our life have changed. We have new facts described by old nomenclature. To say that the old rule of law still applies is to reach a result on the basis of nomenclature, not of fact; it is to apply a rule, proper in its time, to completely new facts, and to justify doing so by reference to language merely without regard to the facts.'

In its motion for judgment on the pleadings the defendant said:

'The fact that a plaintiff is a paying patient in what is otherwise a charitable hospital is of no consequence in denying the eleemosynary nature of the institution.'

To say that a person who pays for what he receives is still the object of charity is a self-contradiction in terms. In the early days of public accommodation for the ill and the maimed, charity was exercised in its pure and pristine sense. Many good men and women, liberal in purse and generous in soul, set up houses to [417 Pa. 493] heal the poor and homeless victims of disease and injury. They made no charge for this care. The benefactors felt themselves richly rewarded in the knowledge that they were befriending humanity. In that period of sociological history, the hospitals were havens mostly for the indigent. The wealthy and the so-called middle class were treated in their homes where usually there could be found better facilities than could be had in the hospitals. 4 The hospital or infirmary was more often than not part of the village parish. Charity in the biblical sense prevailed.

Whatever the law may have been regarding charitable institutions in the past, it does not meet the conditions of today. Charitable...

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137 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Alexander, No. 30 EAP 2019
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2020
    ...in part). "Without stare decisis, there would be no stability in our system of jurisprudence." Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hosp. , 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193, 205 (1965). It is therefore preferable "for the sake of certainty," 243 A.3d 196 Commonwealth v. Tilghman, 543 Pa. 578, 673 A.2d 898, 9......
  • Ex parte Bower, No. 70995
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • December 4, 1991
    ..."The principle of stare decisis does not demand that we follow precedents which shipwreck justice." Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hospital, 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193, 205 (Pa.1965). Today, justice is foundering in a Sargasso sea of opinions by members of this Court interpreting Penry v. Lynaugh......
  • Rabon v. Rowan Memorial Hospital, Inc., No. 605
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • January 20, 1967
    ...Collopy v. Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary, supra; Bing v. Thunig, supra; Avellone v. St. John's Hosp., supra; Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hosp., 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193; Pierce v. Yakima Valley Hosp., supra. In the meantime, Rhode Island, following the decision in Mersey Docks v. Gibbs, supra, ......
  • A---. B---. v. C---. D---., No. 2
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • December 29, 1971
    ...which shipwreck justice!' Harris v. Y.W.C.A. (1968), 250 Ind. 491, 237 N.E.2d 242, 244, quoting Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hospital (1965), 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193. See Judge Sharp's dissent, Troue v. Marker (Ind.App.1969), 249 N.E.2d 512, 516, 18 Ind.Dec. 200, superceded by Troue v. Marke......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
137 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Alexander, No. 30 EAP 2019
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2020
    ...in part). "Without stare decisis, there would be no stability in our system of jurisprudence." Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hosp. , 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193, 205 (1965). It is therefore preferable "for the sake of certainty," 243 A.3d 196 Commonwealth v. Tilghman, 543 Pa. 578, 673 A.2d 898, 9......
  • Ex parte Bower, No. 70995
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • December 4, 1991
    ..."The principle of stare decisis does not demand that we follow precedents which shipwreck justice." Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hospital, 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193, 205 (Pa.1965). Today, justice is foundering in a Sargasso sea of opinions by members of this Court interpreting Penry v. Lynaugh......
  • Rabon v. Rowan Memorial Hospital, Inc., No. 605
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • January 20, 1967
    ...Collopy v. Newark Eye & Ear Infirmary, supra; Bing v. Thunig, supra; Avellone v. St. John's Hosp., supra; Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hosp., 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193; Pierce v. Yakima Valley Hosp., supra. In the meantime, Rhode Island, following the decision in Mersey Docks v. Gibbs, supra, ......
  • A---. B---. v. C---. D---., No. 2
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • December 29, 1971
    ...which shipwreck justice!' Harris v. Y.W.C.A. (1968), 250 Ind. 491, 237 N.E.2d 242, 244, quoting Flagiello v. Pennsylvania Hospital (1965), 417 Pa. 486, 208 A.2d 193. See Judge Sharp's dissent, Troue v. Marker (Ind.App.1969), 249 N.E.2d 512, 516, 18 Ind.Dec. 200, superceded by Troue v. Marke......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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