Huffman v. Lindquist

Decision Date29 June 1951
Citation29 A.L.R.2d 485,234 P.2d 34,37 Cal.2d 465
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 29 A.L.R.2d 485 HUFFMAN v. LINDQUIST et al. L. A. 21416.

Martin, Hahn & Camusi and William P. Camusi, Los Angeles, for appellant.

Chase, Rotchford, Downen & Drukker, Chase, Rotchfore, Downen & Chase, Hugh B. Rotchford, Richard T. Drukker, Musick, Burrell & Ingebretsen and Anson B. Jackson, Jr., Los Angeles, for respondents.

Peart, Baraty & Hassard, George A. Smith, Alan L. Bonnington, San Francisco, Reed & Kirtland and Louis J. Regan, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of respondents.

SPENCE, Justice.

Plaintiff brought this action against defendant doctor and defendant hospital for alleged malpractice and negligence in the treatment and care of her deceased son after he had been injured in an automobile collision. At the close of plaintiff's case, nonsuits were granted to defendant doctor and defendant hospital upon their separate motions therefor. Judgments were entered accordingly and from said judgments, plaintiff appeals.

In challenge of the propriety of the nonsuits, plaintiff claims that she made out a prima facie case of malpractice and negligence on the part of defendants as the proximate cause of her son's death. But viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and disregarding conflicts, in accordance with the settled rule applicable in testing the validity of nonsuits (Lawless v. Calaway, 24 Cal.2d 81, 85, 147 P.2d 604; Lashley v. Koerber, 26 Cal.2d 83, 84-85, 156 P.2d 441; Mc.Curdy v. Hatfield, 30 Cal.2d 492, 493, 183 P.2d 269), the conclusion appears inescapable that plaintiff's position cannot be sustained.

Plaintiff's son, 19 years old, suffered a head injury and fractured skull in an automobile collision near midnight of Saturday, March 16, 1946, and he was taken to defendant hospital for treatment. About an hour later 1 a. m. Sunday, March 17 an intern notified plaintiff that her son had been injured. In response to her inquiry if he was the doctor in charge, he said that he was an intern but that Dr. Lindquist took care of emergency cases. Approximately 15 minutes later plaintiff arrived at the hospital, where she remained in her son's room constantly, with theexception of short intervals and one two-hour period, until his death about 1 a. m. Monday, March 18.

Upon her arrival plaintiff found her son in the emergency room attended by Dr. Brothers, an intern, who, upon inquiry, told her that defendant doctor would be there shortly. At that time the boy was conscious and able to speak to plaintiff. Thereafter, about 2:30 a. m. (Sunday, March 17) he was moved to a private room, at which time he was 'kind of dopey' and 'drowsy,' not restless, and while he seemed to understand statements made to him, he did not answer.

Defendant doctor made his first visit to plaintiff's son at 10 o'clock Sunday morning, at which time when examined by the doctor, the boy seemed 'more unconscious' but was still not restless. At 12 noon the boy became restless, hot and feverish; the last time he spoke was about 1:15 p. m.; and the last sign of physical recognition was about 3 o'clock that Sunday afternoon. At 3:45 p. m. he became very restless and faverish, was not able to understand plaintiff, and although not 'completely unconscious,' he was 'very much worse.' At 7:30 o'clock Sunday evening defendant doctor visited the boy, felt his pulse and opened his eyes. Plaintiff left the hospital for a couple of hours 9 p. m. to 11 p. m. and upon her return, she observed a serious change in his condition; he was unconscious and in a coma, not moving, and was breathing very hard and labored; had developed a rattle in his throat. At 12:45 o'clock the next morning, Monday, March 18, the boy stopped breathing, though his heart was still beating, as defendant doctor entered the room. The doctor immediately called for a respirator or pulmotor, and Dr. Schetgen, an intern, brought the pulmotor but it failed to function; it was replaced, but the second one also failed to work. Then finally, a third machine was procured and used one or two minutes, when defendant doctor pronounced the boy dead.

The boy's sister spoke to defendant doctor at 5 p. m. and at about 7:30 p. m. on Sunday, stating that she desired to have a certain brain specialist called on the case that she felt that her brother's condition was 'very bad' and something should be done that evening. She testified that the doctor said that he would see what could be done along that line the next day.

The death certificate, introduced in evidence by plaintiff, showed the immediate cause of death to be 'pulmonary embolism,' due to 'cerebral contusion and hemorrhage' due to 'fracture of skull.'

The only direct expert testimony was that of defendant doctor, called as a witness by plaintiff under section 2055 of the Code of Civil Procedure. He testified that the emergency service of the hospital called him about 1 or 1:30 a. m. Sunday, March 17; that the reporting intern said that he thought the patient 'had a possible skull fracture * * * a brain injury * * * was semi-conscious'; that he told the intern to have the patient admitted and to watch him, keep a chart of hourly recordings as to blood pressure, pulse and respiration, and report any change, and give the patient some sedative (phenobarbital or codeine) in the event that he became restless. According to the doctor, when he first saw the boy about 10 o'clock Sunday morning, the boy was 'semi-conscious, rather restless * * * his blood pressure * * * pulse and temperature were within normal limits * * * his eyes were dilated but they reacted to light.' The doctor stated that he did not prescribe any different care except to order a glucose injection, but he recognized then that the boy had a brain injury with 'some hemorrhage' either epidural (between the bony vault of the brain and the dura, which is the tough membrane surrounding the brain) of subdural (between the dura and the brain) although he did not know the extent or location until he 'saw the coroner's report'; and he added that he saw the boy four times on Sunday, March 17: about 10 o'clock in the morning, at noon, a little before 7:30 p. m., and around midnight.

Defendant doctor further testified that he specialized in traumatic surgery; that he had been in practice and on the staff of defendant hospital for 22 years in attending emergency cases; that he had assisted in brain operations, and when he had a brain injury case he was accustomed to calling in a specialist if he thought the condition of the patient so warranted; that a brain injury is usually accompanied by dilation of the pupils of the eyes, a condition which, when accompanied by lack of reaction to light, is one of the symptoms of an epidural hemorrhage; that when he examined plaintiff's son at 10 o'clock Sunday morning, the pupil of the boy's right eye was slightly dilated, though it still reacted to light, and he found a suggestive Babinsky, indicative of a brain injury.

The autopsy report recited that plaintiff's son had an 'epidural hemorrhage 1.5 cm. thick.' 'When questioned as to the factors considered in 'determining whether or not there is epidural hemorrhage,' the doctor stated: 'I take into consideration whether he is getting any increased intracranial pressure, which is the usual sign, as they become gradually more unconscious, go into a deep stupor, their blood pressure usually climbs way high with a slowing of their pulse, * * * the respirations get slower, and (the) pupil then generally becomes dilated completely, right out to the rim, and it is fixed, you cannot make it contract with any amount of light you wish to put in it * * *. As a general rule, from all I can find out in talking to neurosurgeous, when a pupil will react to light, it is not serious.' Then in reply to the question 'All right, Doctor, let us assume that you have a case of epidural hemorrhage, * * * is it not true that if the bleeding continues and no operation is made to clean out that clot, open the brain, the patient will surely die,' the doctor said: 'Certainly if the hemorrhage continues to make that clot big enough to create enough pressure on your brain, you are going to die, surely.'

In discussing the classical picture of an epidural hemorrhage, the doctor stated that in the majority of cases the patient is (1) unconscious; (2) lucid; (3) gradually unconscious. He described the 'lucid interval' as a condition where 'a patient receives some head injury, is knocked unconscious, maybe minutes, maybe seconds, he then becomes conscious, the usual thing is he gets up, walks around about his business, whatever it is, then an hour, two hours, ten hours, twelve hours that patient begins to complain of headache, the headache increases and if somebody examines his pulse, he will start to become slower, if it goes long enough, he will become unconscious.' The doctor testified that the conservative (nonsurgical) rather than the radical (operative) treatment was better in the early stages of a head injury case; that pursuant to his instructions, the interns and attendants at the hospital 'were giving (the boy) the conservative treatment to try to keep him quiet; they were taking his blood pressure * * * his pulse * * * his temperature, his respirations to indicate' if his intracranial pressure was increasing; that the boy's condition on the occasion of his 7:30 o'clock visit Sunday evening was about the same as it had been that morning; and that the chart readings shown for 11:30 o'clock that evening revealed the boy's condition to have become worse, that 'something went wrong' in the boy's brain, but still the symptoms were 'not necessarily' those indicative of an epidural hemorrhage as distinguished from some other type of brain bleeding. With regard to the death certificate's recital of 'pulmonary embolism' as the immediate cause of death, the doctor...

To continue reading

Request your trial
145 cases
  • People v. Deletto
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 1983 necessary for the plaintiff to introduce expert opinion evidence in order to establish a prima facie case. (See Huffman v. Lindquist, [1951], 37 Cal.2d at pp. 473, 474-475 ; Lawless v. Calaway (1944) 24 Cal.2d 81, 88-89 ; Truman v. Vargas (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 976, 982-983 .)" (Miller v.......
  • Lucero v. Trumble
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • December 6, 2012
    ...trial court has discretion to determine if a witness is competent and qualified to present expert opinion on an issue. Huffman v. Lindquist, 37 Cal.2d 465, 476 (1951). "[T]here is no requirement for an officer to possess an academic or professional credential to qualify as a gang expert, an......
  • Dambacher by Dambacher v. Mallis
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • November 27, 1984
    ...exclusion of general practitioner in malpractice action against gynecologist who performed vaginal hysterectomy); Huffman v. Lindquist, 37 Cal.2d 465, 234 P.2d 34 (1951) (autopsy surgeon not qualified as to treatment for brain injury); Moore v. Belt, 34 Cal.2d 525, 212 P.2d 509 (1950) (auto......
  • Custodio v. Bauer
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • May 24, 1967
    ...of responsibility' is imposed 'in making a diagnosis than in prescribing treatment.' (Citations.)' (Huffman v. Lindquist (1951) 37 Cal.2d 465, 473, 234 P.2d 34, 39, 29 A.L.R.2d 485.) 'Mere error of judgment, in the absence of a want of reasonable care and skill in the application of his med......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT