Lafferty v. Manhasset Medical Center Hospital

Decision Date23 November 1981
Citation54 N.Y.2d 277,445 N.Y.S.2d 111,429 N.E.2d 789
Parties, 429 N.E.2d 789 Raymond R. LAFFERTY, as Administrator of the Estate of Anna E. Lafferty, Deceased, Plaintiff, and Helen M. Lafferty, Appellant, v. MANHASSET MEDICAL CENTER HOSPITAL et al., Respondents.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
John B. Amrod, Garden City, and Michael J. Creighton, Bellerose, for appellant
OPINION OF THE COURT

PER CURIAM.

The third and fourth causes of action of plaintiffs' complaint arise out of an alleged medical malpractice by the defendant Manhasset Medical Center Hospital in transfusing mismatched blood into Anna E. Lafferty who was a patient at the hospital. The plaintiff Helen M. Lafferty was the daughter-in-law of Anna and brings these causes of action in essence, to recover for the emotional distress and the aggravation of a pre-existing heart problem. She alleges that she suffered these conditions as a result of her having been a witness to the negligent blood transfusion and a participant in the events that occurred during the period immediately following the start of the transfusion.

The Appellate Division, 79 A.D.2d 996, 435 N.Y.S.2d 307, dismissed the third and fourth causes of action on the ground that they failed to state a cause of action (CPLR 3211, subd. par. 7) and we affirm, 103 Misc.2d 98, 425 N.Y.S.2d 244.

The complaint relates an unfortunate incident but does not establish a cause of action cognizable at law. There is no allegation that the defendant hospital was negligent with respect to the plaintiff, as opposed to her mother-in-law. Neither does the plaintiffs' complaint fit within the recognized limits of the rescuer doctrine (Wagner v. International Ry. Co., 232 N.Y. 176, 133 N.E. 437). We have never held that a rescurer can recover for psychic injury sustained only as the result of observing the person he or she intended to rescue suffer from the defendant's negligence.

In essence the case merely represents another effort to extend existing principles of law so as to expand the liability of the negligent actor to include third parties who suffer shock as a result of direct injury to others (Tobin v. Grossman, 24 N.Y.2d 609, 301 N.Y.S.2d 554, 249 N.E.2d 419; Howard v. Lecher, 42 N.Y.2d 109, 397 N.Y.S.2d 363 366 N.E.2d 64; Becker v. Schwartz, 46 N.Y.2d 401, 413 N.Y.S.2d 895, 386 N.E.2d 807; Vaccaro v. Squibb Corp., 52 N.Y.2d 809, 436 N.Y.S.2d 871, 418 N.E.2d 386). As we noted in the Tobin case, the major obstacle to recognizing this theory of recovery is that "there appears to be no rational way to limit the scope of liability" (Tobin v. Grossman, supra, 24 N.Y.2d p. 618, 301 N.Y.S.2d 554, 249 N.E.2d 419). The need for a rationally circumscribed rule of law is not satisfied by the limiting factors suggested in this case.

The fact that the plaintiff in this case made some effort to save her mother-in-law with the acquiescence or even active encouragement of the defendant is, like the mother's proximity to the accident in Tobin, "quite inconsequential for the shock more likely results from the relationship with the injured party" (Tobin v. Grossman, supra, p. 618, 301 N.Y.S.2d 554, 249 N.E.2d 419). Indeed under the theory proposed those who are most closely related to the injured party, and thus most likely to suffer an immobilizing shock, would as a result of that very inability to act be denied recovery while those with little or no prior emotional attachment would be entitled to recover simply because they still possessed the presence of mind to offer some assistance, spontaneously or in response to the defendant's urgings, however ineffectual.

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    ...372 N.Y.S.2d 636, 334 N.E.2d 590, supra ), which the hospital assumed by sending the message (Lafferty v. Manhasset Med. Center Hosp., 54 N.Y.2d 277, 280, 445 N.Y.S.2d 111, 429 N.E.2d 789), and the mishandling of or failure to deliver a dead body with the consequent denial of access to the ......
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