James v. Sunshine Biscuits, Inc., 51328

Decision Date11 April 1966
Docket NumberNo. 51328,No. 1,51328,1
PartiesPaul JAMES, Appellant, v. SUNSHINE BISCUITS, INC., and V. W. Staley, Respondents
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Thaine Q. Blumer, Blumer & Wright, Kansas City, for plaintiff-appellant.

Lyman Field, Rogers, Field & Gentry, Kansas City, for respondents.

HIGGINS, Commissioner.

In this wrongful death action plaintiff had a verdict and judgment for $20,000. The court overruled defendants' motion for new trial but sustained their motion to set aside verdict and judgment and entered judgment for defendants.

On July 18, 1962, plaintiff's wife, Virginia June James, was employed by defendant Sunshine Biscuits, Inc. at Sunshine's plant in Kansas City, Kansas. The plant produced crackers, cookies, and candy. Defendant V. W. Staley was the superintendent and ranking employee on the night shift. There were no nurses or physicians present on the night shift and the first-aid room was locked at night. Staley carried a key to the first-aid room and he was experienced in caring for injured and ailing employees. Sunshine's policy was to have him call the company physician for severe illness or injuries and to try to get sick employees to their families or family physicians. He also could give temporary relief by medicines kept in the first-aid room. He would average one or two emergencies a month requiring him to call a hospital and send an employee there due to the plant physician being unavailable. Sick employees were to be relieved at their work and permitted to obtain a physician of their choice.

At about 3 P.M., July 18, 1962, Mrs. James and some coworkers arrived at work from Richmond, Missouri. Mrs. James was in good spirits, was not complaining of any illness, and appeared normal and in good health. She was not under medical care and her last medical treatment was for a sunburn.

At 7 P.M. the plant shut down for the 35-minute lunch period and Mrs. James went outside the plant and purchased a ham and cheese sandwich and some potato salad from a Rainbow Catering Company 1 truck. Later she became ill and left her place at work on the production line, and at 7:20 the following morning she died. Since the issue is whether there was substantial evidence that delayed medical care caused the death, we detail the evidence relating to the illness, treatment, hospitalization, and death.

Betty Sue Roberts, one of decedent's coworkers from Richmond, Missouri, saw Mrs. James at the first break after the lunch period. Someone advised her that Mrs. James was sick and she went to the lounge to see about her. 'There was probably eight, ten girls in there. * * * When I walked in, she was vomiting. * * * She was standing with the (toilet) door open, and she had this green stuff coming out of her mouth.' Neither she nor the others assisted her from the toilet. 'I asked her if she wanted to go home, and she said she thought she would be all right in a few minutes.' She left the lounge and went to the cafeteria to join her friends for the remainder of the 15-minute break. After the break she returned to her machine. 'It hadn't run very long at all until they came and told me I was wanted in the back.' She hunted up Van (Mr. Staley) and he told her, 'Go in there and keep that girl quiet.' She could not fix the time of the break or how long after the break she returned to the lounge. Upon her return Myra Hazen and Charles Lanning were present. 'He was trying to keep her quiet.' She assisted him in getting water for Mrs. James and 'we got cardboard and put under her head.' Staley came in carrying some Kaopectate and she, Lanning, and Hazen administered it to Mrs. James. Lanning shut off the vent because Mrs. James was cold and Staley got some cloth candy covers to put over her. 'All the time we were in there, June was hollering for help.' Staley asked her if she knew any doctors and she replied that she did not. 'Mr. Lanning wanted to take Mrs. James to the hospital, which was about ten or fifteen minute's drive from there and Van Didn't want him to. * * * he just kept saying he was handling it.' She said that about 10 o'clock, 'She (Mrs. James) was screaming for a doctor. * * * she begged him (Staley) for a doctor, too.' Of Mrs. James's condition at this time, she said, 'She had been vomiting. She was wet with perspiration * * *. Her clothes were just soaked with everything. I mean she was--had diarrhea, vomiting, and there was sweat. * * * Everything was a mess in there, and it smelled horrible.' When she got off work at 11 P.M., Dr. Flanders was attending Mrs. James and she was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Mrs. Roberts rode in the ambulance with the patient.

Charles Lanning was an electrician on the night shift at Sunshine. At about 9 P.M. he became informed that a lady was sick in the ladies' lounge and, upon approaching the lounge, 'I heard this lady moaning and sick and hollering for a doctor. * * * she had vomit all over the front part of her dress, and she had diarrhea which was evidenced all over the place, and she had perspiration on her uniform. * * * she told me that she was unearthly sick.' He asked one of the girls to call Van Staley and he came to the lounge. They talked about getting the lady to a doctor and the witness said, 'I told him I would take her up to Bethany Hospital. * * * The only thing that he done, and that was a little bit later than that, he went back to the First Aid Room and came back with a bottle of this Kaopectate. * * * It seems to me it was around 10:00 o'clock. * * * About 10:00 o'clock, he said that he would call a doctor.' When informed that it would be about one hour before the doctor arrived, the witness said he offered to take the lady to the hospital in his car. The doctor (Dr. Flanders) arrived around 11 P.M. He took over, talked to Mrs. James, and did not send her to the hospital immediately. An ambulance was called 'between 11:30 and quarter of twelve,' and it arrived at 12 o'clock. The witness was present when Betty Roberts arrived around 9:30 and at the discussion concerning calling Mrs. James's family.

The ambulance driver, Glenn Pittser, described Mrs. James as a sick woman when he picked her up. She was in charge of Dr. Flanders and she was delivered at St. Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, about 12:10 or 12:15 on the morning of July 19th.

Miriam Good was also one of the group who rode to Sunshine from Richmond, Missouri. According to her, Mrs. James got sick and left the line a little after 8 o'clock. She was gone not over five minutes, worked for about ten minutes more, got sick, and left again. She next saw Mrs. James in the lounge around 9:30 at the break time. 'She was sick. * * * I just knew she was sick, and she was pale looking, and I--I just didn't pay any attention to her clothes.' Around 11:30 at quitting time she saw Mrs. James again. She was lying down on the couch and her appearance was 'awful.' Dr. Flanders, Mr. Staley, Betty Sue Roberts, and others were present.

Patricia Lee Good, another of the group from Richmond, saw Mrs. James at the 9:30 break. 'She was in the restroom. * * * she was back vomiting, and she was awfully sick.' She next saw Mrs. James at 11:30 on the couch in the lounge. Dr. Flanders was present. 'She was begging someone to get her a doctor and get her out of there, and she wanted someone to call her husband.' According to her, Mrs. James looked different at 11:30 from her appearance at 9:30.

Admissions of defendant Staley were that he was talking to Myra Hazen about 8:15 P.M. and Mrs. James asked Mrs. Hazen to relieve her. His next notice of Mrs. James was about 9 o'clock when Mrs. Hazen informed him that Mrs. James was sick and needed something for an upset stomach. He saw Mrs. James in the lounge about 9:15 and Mr. Lanning appeared within five minutes. 'We both tried to ger her to take some Kaopectate. * * * I think it was a little later than that she asked about the doctor. It was after 9:30 or about 9:30 when the girls started going back off their break, and at least Mr. Lanning and Miss Roberts and myself stood outdoors--I mean right out the door there and talked about it, and I asked at that time who their family doctor was so we could try, you know, to get hold of him.'

He also testified that when neither Mr. James, Mrs. Roberts, nor Mr. Lanning knew of a local doctor, he decided between 9:45 and 9:50 to call the company doctor, Dr. Flanders. (Dr. Flanders died before the trial.) The doctor called him back in five to ten minutes, at which time he advised the doctor that Mrs. James 'was a pretty sick woman, and that she complained of having stomach cramps and had begun to vomit at that time, and that I really wanted information on what to do.' He also told the doctor of the involuntary bowel movements and urination that Mrs. James was experiencing. He was advised to continue with the Kaopectate until the doctor could get there and that he would come right over. Staley did not consent to move Mrs. James because he had put the matter into the doctor's hands. Dr. Flanders arrived at 11 o'clock and 'started to giving her some more medication, sitting down beside her and talking to her, and trying to--giving her an examination or find out what was wrong with her. * * * He turned around to me right at 11:30 and asked me to take him to a phone where he could call the hospital and an ambulance.'

Myra Hazen stated that she was the steward in the night shift icing department. She saw nothing wrong with Mrs. James at the 7 o'clock supper break. She next saw Mrs. James when she relieved her at 9 o'clock. She came back after five or ten minutes, stayed a short time, and left again. During the break from 9:30 to 9:45 she observed Mrs. James 'to be quite ill at that time, had been vomiting and also diarrhea.' She got word to Staley after that, around 10 o'clock, and they tried to give her the...

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