Higgins v. Emerson Hospital

Decision Date09 May 1975
Citation328 N.E.2d 488,367 Mass. 714
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

George P. Luker, Maynard, for plaintiff.

Lionel H. Perlo, Boston, for defendant.



This appeal brings before us the issue whether, by reason of the language in Colby v. Carney Hosp., 356 Mass. 527, 528, 254 N.E.2d 407 (1969), we should hold that the defense of charitable immunity is not available to the defendant hospital. The plaintiff's appeal was entered in the Appeals Court and was transferred to this court for direct appellate review on our order pursuant to G.L. c. 211A, § 10(A).

The plaintiff brought an action in tort and contract for injuries allegedly sustained by him on June 17, 1970, while he was an inpatient at the defendant hospital. The case was tried on June 20, 1974, before a Superior Court judge and a jury. The plaintiff's attorney made an opening statement that asserted the facts of the plaintiff's accident and injury, including a stipulation that the defendant hospital at the time of the accident was a Massachusetts charitable corporation organized under G.L. c. 180, and that it was operated exclusively for charitable purposes. The judge thereupon directed verdicts for the defendant as to both counts of the plaintiff's declaration.

We treat the case as one in which, as to both counts, one in tort and one in contract, the plaintiff's opening statement alleged a case which was not susceptible to directed verdicts but for the application of charitable immunity a defense which had been affirmatively pleaded by the defendant. The parties and the judge have clearly considered that the single issue is whether, by reason of the Colby case, or any other consideration, we should hold that charitable immunity is not applicable in this case. We hold that the doctrine is applicable and that the judge properly directed verdicts for the defendant as to both counts.

The injury here occurred after the date of the decision of the Colby case (December 23, 1969), but before the effective date, September 16, 1971, of St. 1971, c. 785, § 1, now G.L. c. 231, § 85K, which abolished the doctrine of charitable immunity. We have since held that the statute is not retrospective in effect (RICKER V. NORTHEASTERN UNIV., --- MASS. --- , 279 N.E.2D 671 (1972)A), and it is thus clear that the plaintiff here takes no benefit from the statute.

The plaintiff contends that, because of the intimation in the Colby case as to be possible future abolishment of charitable immunity, that doctrine is not applicable in this case. He argues that from the date of the decision the various charitable institutions, as well as the insurance industry and members of the public, were clearly given notice of and could conform their conduct in reliance on the fact that claims of charitable immunity raised with respect to incidents occurring after the date of the decision, December 23, 1969, would be rejected.

He further contends that had the Legislature not acted on the subject matter in 1971 there would be no question that this court would rule the charitable immunity doctrine abolished as to the instant case.

We reject the arguments. In Colby v. Carney Hosp., 356 Mass. 527, 528, 254 N.E.2d 407, 408 (1969), we said that any renunciation of the doctrine of charitable immunity 'should be accomplished prospectively and that this should be best done by legislative action' (emphasis supplied). At no time has this court abolished the doctrine. In RICKER V. NORTHEASTERN UNIV., SUPRA, --- AT --- , 279 N.E.2D AT 672,B we said, speaking of the Colby ca...

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11 cases
  • Heinrich ex rel. Heinrich v. Sweet
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • September 29, 2000
    ...Mass. 717, 718, 328 N.E.2d 490 (1975) (statute abolishing charitable immunity is not retrospective in effect); Higgins v. Emerson Hosp., 367 Mass. 714, 715, 328 N.E.2d 488 (1975) (same). Consequently, the statute does not apply to injuries that occurred prior to its effective date. See John......
  • Mone v. Greyhound Lines, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 16, 1975
    ...of the rules governing cases arising under the statute now superseded. Cf. Higgins v. Emerson Hosp., --- Mass. ---, --- - --- d, 328 N.E.2d 488 (1975) (charitable immunity). I therefore do not pursue further the general question when it is proper to overrule a prior decision retroactively, ......
  • Sackett v. St. Mary's Church Soc.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • May 31, 1984
    ...of tort and would not exceed those recoverable under the rules applicable to negligence actions. See Higgins v. Emerson Hosp., 367 Mass. 714, 716, 328 N.E.2d 488 (1975); Scandura v. Trombly Motor Coach Serv., Inc., 370 Mass. 612, 618, 351 N.E.2d 202 (1976); Thomas v. Massachusetts Bay Trans......
  • Phipps v. Aptucxet Post No. 5988 V. F. W. Bldg. Ass'n, Inc.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • June 6, 1979
    ...G.L. c. 231, § 85K, imposing tort liability upon charitable organizations with prescribed limitations. See Higgins v. Emerson Hospital, 367 Mass. 714, 715-716, 328 N.E.2d 488 (1975). Even if we assume, without deciding, that the purposes delineated in the defendant corporation's articles of......
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