McDonald v. Massachusetts General Hospital

Decision Date26 June 1876
Citation120 Mass. 432
PartiesJames McDonald v. Massachusetts General Hospital
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Suffolk. Tort for injuries sustained by reason of negligent and unskillful surgical treatment of the plaintiff by the defendant's servants. At the trial in the Superior Court before Allen, J., the plaintiff put in evidence tending to show the following facts:

The defendant was incorporated by the St. of 1810, c. 94. The funds of the corporation have been derived from grants devises, donations, bequests and subscriptions of money and other property contributed by the Commonwealth and benevolent persons, to be used and improved for the erection, support and maintenance of a general hospital for sick and insane persons, according to the charter and acts in amendment thereof, and from profits of the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company, paid over to the defendant, and also in part from the board of paying patients.

The plaintiff, on December 9, 1870, fell from a building on which he was at work, and his thigh bone was fractured, and on the same day he was brought to the hospital of the defendant, and there remained in one of the wards until February 4, 1871 when he voluntarily went away. While in the hospital he had gratuitously the surgical and medical care, attendance and nursing which the hospital affords to its patients; he occupied a free bed, and all the expenses of his medical and surgical treatment and nursing, and of his shelter, warmth, food, washing and bedding, were borne as a charity by the defendant. The house pupil, appointed as provided in the by-laws, and who in the first instance set his fractured thigh bone, and continued, while the plaintiff was at the hospital, to attend to the plaintiff's case, under the direction of the attending surgeon, was a member of the Harvard Medical School, in the last of his three years of professional study, and received his degree of M. D. from Harvard College in the following June, 1871; the attending physicians and surgeons recommended him for his post, and the visiting surgeon, who had direct charge of the treatment of the fractured bone, and under whose direction and supervision the house pupil acted in his treatment of the plaintiff's fracture, was a man of the highest professional reputation and character; the said house pupil and attending surgeon treated the plaintiff's case gratuitously, and according to the regulations of the Massachusetts General Hospital. The treatment of all cases in the hospital is by the visiting physicians and surgeons, and the house pupils acting under their direction, each officer having the exclusive care and control of all patients assigned to them, and such physicians and surgeons act gratuitously, the defendant providing for patients without means, like the plaintiff, the hospital, nurses, bed, food, warmth and other comforts gratuitously; such visiting physicians and surgeons are practitioners in the city of Boston, outside of the hospital, and are selected by the trustees of the hospital to treat gratuitously patients who come to the hospital for gratuitous treatment; and this was the relation of the visiting surgeon to the defendant in this case.

The plaintiff offered evidence to prove that on the day he came to the hospital he objected to the house pupil doing anything to or with his fractured leg, and that he wanted and asked to be permitted to wait till the return of the resident physician, who was at the time absent. The plaintiff also offered evidence that previously to this time it had frequently happened that when a patient was brought in, having been injured by accident, the house pupils received him, and treated the case, if they so desired, without consulting any resident or visiting physician. The plaintiff offered other evidence which he claimed tended to show that the fractured bone was not properly set, by reason either of the incompetency and negligence of the house pupil, or of the negligence of the attending surgeon.

The judge ruled that, even if the plaintiff should prove that the fractured bone was not properly set in consequence of the incompetency of the house pupil, or the negligence of him or the attending surgeon, the plaintiff was not entitled to recover, and the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The plaintiff excepted to this ruling, and the judge reported the case for the consideration of this court. Annexed to the report was a copy of the by-laws and regulations of the defendant, the material parts of which appear in the opinion.

Judgment on the verdict.

L. M....

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255 cases
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    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1938
    ... ... The ... case comes before us upon a general demurrer as it did on the ... former appeal. It may be found necessary at times to refer to ... Eye & Ear Infirmary , 107 Me. 408, 78 A. 898, 33 L. R ... A., N. S., 141; Massachusetts: Roosen v. Peter ... Bent Brigham Hospital , 235 Mass. 66, 126 N.E. 392, 14 A ... L. R. 563; McDonald v. Mass. General ... Hospital , 120 Mass. 432, 21 Am. Rep. 529; Michigan: ... Downes v ... ...
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    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • June 23, 1938
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  • Nazzaro v. U.S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Jersey
    • January 28, 2004
    ...rejected charitable immunity, Massachusetts recognized the doctrine for the first time in the United States in McDonald v. Massachusetts General Hospital, 120 Mass. 432 (1876) (denying plaintiff recovery of damages from a public charitable hospital's trust fund). Other states, including New......
  • Schultz v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • March 19, 1984
    ...over to charitable organizations in Hillyer v. The Governors of St. Bartholomew's Hosp., 2 K.B. 800 (1909). McDonald v. Massachusetts General Hosp., 120 Mass. 432 (1876), the first American case to hold that a charitable institution is not liable for the tortious acts of its agents or emplo......
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