Shadden v. Valley View Hosp.

Decision Date16 April 1996
Docket NumberNo. 83724,83724
Citation1996 OK 140,915 P.2d 364
PartiesMarjorie K. SHADDEN and Boyd Shadden, Appellants, v. VALLEY VIEW HOSPITAL d/b/a Valley View Regional Hospital, Appellee.
CourtOklahoma Supreme Court

Rick W. Bisher, Boettcher, Ryan & Martin, Oklahoma City, for Appellants.

A. Scott Johnson, Mary Hanan, Michael J. Heron, Michael D. Denton, Kimberly S. Majors, A. Scott Johnson and Associates, P.C., Oklahoma City, and Bob E. Bennett, Ada, for Appellee.

LAVENDER, Justice.

We hold that a negligence suit brought by patient for personal injuries against a hospital for failing to restrain patient in her bed resulting in injurious fall of patient is not barred by a general release given to original tortfeasor driver allegedly responsible for causing automobile accident that necessitated hospital admission. Under the teachings of Moss v. City of Oklahoma City, 897 P.2d 280 (Okla.1995), to the extent the original tortfeasor and hospital share a common liability for patient's injuries, 12 O.S.1991, § 832(H)(1), a part of the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA) applies, and because the involved release fails to name or otherwise specifically identify hospital as a tortfeasor to be discharged, it is insufficient as a matter of law to discharge hospital from potential liability. Further, to the extent there is no common liability and the hospital is alone responsible for the harm (or some part thereof) resulting from patient's fall, although the UCATA would not apply because of the lack of common liability, the same result would obtain. In such event, an independent and separate cause of action would exist against the hospital for the harm caused by the independent and intervening acts or omissions of the hospital and under no theory would the release at issue be considered a discharge of it. In view of our determinations, we reverse the decision of the trial court granting summary judgment to the hospital and vacate the memorandum opinion of the Court of Appeals.


Although a trial court in making a decision on whether summary judgment is appropriate considers factual matters, the ultimate decision turns on purely legal determinations, i.e. whether one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because there are no material disputed factual questions. Therefore, as the decision involves purely legal determinations, the appellate standard of review of a trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo. Bacchus Industries, Inc. v. Arvin Industries, Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir.1991). We, like the trial court, will examine the pleadings and evidentiary materials submitted by the parties to determine if there is a genuine issue of material fact. Ross v. City of Shawnee, 683 P.2d 535, 536 (Okla.1984). Further, all inferences and conclusions to be drawn from the evidentiary materials must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.


Appellant, Marjorie K. Shadden was involved in an automobile accident in February 1990. Her injuries were apparently severe enough that she was admitted to appellee, Valley View Hospital, where she was hospitalized from about February 15, 1990 to March 3, 1990. On February 21, 1990, Marjorie, while still hospitalized, fell and suffered additional injury. The record is inconclusive as to what injuries were suffered either in the automobile accident or from the fall in the hospital, i.e. the extent of any such injuries or what part(s) of her body were injured is simply not conclusively shown by this record. Although severe injury to the head as a result of the automobile accident is noted in the trial court petition filed against Valley View, Marjorie's husband, Boyd Shadden, described in his deposition the injuries sustained in the hospital fall as the reopening of a wound to the head, damage to skin tissues, and generally neck, head, face and back problems.

In late March 1990, Marjorie and her husband Boyd settled with the original alleged tortfeasor driver, a George E. Jones, in exchange for fifteen thousand five hundred forty-nine dollars and seventeen cents ($15,549.17). She and Boyd signed a release which specifically named George E. Jones as the person to be discharged--Jones' name being placed in a blank space provided on the release form for such purpose. However, immediately subsequent to naming Jones (his successors, assigns, heirs, executors or administrators) as the discharged party, the release contained the following broad language purportedly also discharging:

any and all other persons, associations and corporations, whether herein named or referred to or not, and who, together with the above named, may be jointly or severally liable to the Undersigned, of and from any and all, all manner of, actions and causes of action, rights, suits, covenants, contracts, agreements, judgments, claims and demands whatsoever in law or equity, including claims for contribution, arising from and by reason of any and all KNOWN AND UNKNOWN, FORESEEN AND UNFORESEEN bodily and personal injuries or death, damage to property, and all consequences thereof, which heretofore have been, and which hereafter may be sustained by the Undersigned or by any and all other persons, associations and corporations, whether herein named or referred to or not, and especially from all liability arising out of an occurrence that happened on or about the 15th day of February, 1990 at or near Ada, Oklahoma.

Within three months after signing the release Marjorie and her husband filed suit against Valley View claiming injury resulting from her fall in the hospital. 1 The petition claimed Valley View was negligent by providing inadequate care in the following particulars that because of the head injuries suffered in the automobile accident Marjorie was in a confused state, requiring that she be restrained in her bed. On February 21, 1990 she was not properly restrained, she became ambulatory, she fell to the ground striking her head, thereby incurring injuries to her person. As far as we can tell from materials in the record, the contention is hospital personnel--apparently nurses--had a duty to properly restrain Marjorie in her bed and that this duty was breached.

Valley View moved for summary judgment setting up the release as a discharge of all potential tortfeasors that might be liable for damages associated with or resulting from the automobile accident. 2 It relied not only on the broad, seemingly all-inclusive language of the release, but on the doctrine the release or discharge of an original tortfeasor from liability will also discharge a physician or hospital that allegedly negligently aggravates the initial injuries. Valley View contended such was the law in Oklahoma both prior and subsequent to adoption of the UCATA. The hospital also seemed to assume that it was a given that no matter what the circumstances surrounding Marjorie's fall at the hospital or what harm was caused thereby, the original tortfeasor driver would be liable therefore, i.e. a common liability exists among the driver and Valley View in relation to any harm suffered in the fall at the hospital.

The Shaddens opposed summary judgment arguing in part that under § 832(H)(1) the release was not sufficient to discharge Valley View. They also generally contended there was no intention to release the hospital, but only the original tortfeasor driver. The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of Valley View based on the broad language contained in the release. The transcript of argument on Valley View's summary judgment motion also shows the trial judge relied on the pre-UCATA case of Farrar v. Wolfe, 357 P.2d 1005 (Okla.1960), which held there cannot be recovery in a malpractice suit by one who has sustained personal injuries in consequence of a third person's negligence, against a physician for negligent aggravation of such injuries by improper treatment, after settlement with full release of the tortfeasor who caused the injuries. The Court of Appeals reversed ostensibly on the basis there was no evidence suggesting the Shaddens intended to release Valley View. They also expressly found that § 832(H)(1) was inapplicable because that provision applied only to a situation involving "joint" tortfeasors, not one involving successive tortfeasors, as involved here. The Court of Appeals failed to mention or distinguish Farrar. We previously granted certiorari.


Under our law the general rule is that an original tortfeasor, negligently causing injury to a third person, is liable for the negligence of a physician who treats the injured person where negligent treatment results in aggravation of or increasing the injuries, so long as the injured person exercises good faith in the choice of physicians. Atherton v. Devine, 602 P.2d 634, 636 (Okla.1979); Smith v. Missouri, K. & T. Ry. Co., 76 Okla. 303, 185 P. 70, 73-74 (1918). This rule is founded on sound reasons of public policy and is merely a particular application of the rule that a tortfeasor whose negligence causes injury is also liable for any subsequent injury or reinjury that is the proximate result of the original wrongdoing, except where the subsequent injury or reinjury is caused by either the negligence of the injured person, or the independent or intervening act of a third person. Atherton, supra, 602 P.2d at 636-637. 3 In that injuries suffered as a result of the medical treatment were considered to have been proximately caused by the original tort, in this sense, the physician and original wrongdoer caused a "single" injury, and were, therefore, jointly liable to the victim. Summey v. Lacy, 42 Colo.App. 1, 588 P.2d 892, 893 (1978). This is so even though the physician can be said to be a successive tortfeasor, rather than a joint or concurrent one. ...

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