Shaffer v. Monongalia General Hospital

Decision Date19 December 1950
Docket NumberNo. CC,CC
Citation135 W.Va. 163,62 S.E.2d 795
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court
PartiesSHAFFER, v. MONONGALIA GENERAL HOSPITAL. 768.

Syllabus by the Court.

A hospital established by statute and operated for the benefit of the public, by a board of trustees incorporated by the statute which also provides that the income from such hospital is to be used to operate it and as a reserve for its repair, maintenance and depreciation, and that the excess then remaining may be paid to the county court of the county in which such hospital is located for use by such court for any lawful purpose, is a public hospital and, in its operation and maintenance, is engaged in the performance of a governmental function; and such hospital, while so operated, is not liable for personal injuries received by a paying patient which result from the negligence of its agents.

Kermit R. Mason, Morgantown, for plaintiff.

Jesse M. Jaco, Morgantown, for defendant.

HAYMOND, Judge.

This action of trespass on the case was instituted in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County by the plaintiff, Isabell Shaffer, to recover from the defendant, Monongalia General Hospital, a corporation, damages for personal injuries which resulted from the alleged negligence of the defendant while the plaintiff was a patient for hire in its hospital on February 17, 1949.

To the declaration of the plaintiff, claiming damages of $25,000.00, the defendant filed a special plea which alleges that the defendant corporation and al property constituting its hospital are vested in the County Court of Monongalia County; that the hospital is controlled, managed and operated by a board of nine trustees appointed by the county court to serve without compensation; that the revenue derived from the hospital is required by law to be used to operate the hospital and as a reserve for its repair, maintenance and depreciation, and that only the excess revenue then remaining may be paid to the county court to be used by it for any lawful purpose; that the hospital is not maintained and operated for gain or profit; that the defendant corporation has no stockholders or members, except its trustees who have no pecuniary interest in profits or losses of the hospital and is a public corporation which is organized exclusively for governmental purposes and which exercises exclusively governmental functions; and that the defendant is not liable for the injuries mentioned and complained of in the declaration.

The plaintiff filed a demurrer and a special replication to the plea. The court overruled the demurrer and certified to this Court, upon the demurrer, these questions: (1) Whether the defendant, in the operation of its hospital, in the manner alleged in the plea, is engaged in the discharge of a governmental, or a proprietary, function; and (2) whether the defendant is liable for the torts of its agents committed in the performance of their duties.

The defendant, as now constituted, was created by a statute passed in 1943, Chapter 112, Acts of the Legislature, 1943, Regular Session, which reestablished an existing hospital authorized by Chapter 164, Acts of the Legislature, 1929, Regular Session. The present statute authorizes and empowers the County Court of Monongalia County to establish, equip and maintain, in that county, a hospital to be known as Monongalia General Hospital, and to use the buildings and the equipment of the previously established hospital. It declares that the cost of operating the hospital shall be provided for from its revenues but that the county court may contribute to the operating expenditures of the hospital from any funds in the custody of the court not otherwise appropriated. It also directs the county court to appoint a board of trustees of nine members which is authorized and empowered to control, manage and operate the hospital; prescribes the qualifications of the members of the board and defines its powers and duties; provides that the board shall be a corporation which may contract and be contracted with and sue and be sued; deals with the revenues derived from the operation of the hospital and other funds for use by it; and declares that title to all property constituting or belonging to the hospital shall be vested in the county court.

Section 10 of the act, relating to revenues and funds, provides that all revenues derived from the operation of the hospital shall be deposited in a separate account designated as the 'Monongalia General Hospital Fund'; that out of that fund the board shall pay certain amounts for specified purposes, in this order: First, the amount of the reasonable expense of operation, repair and maintenance of the hospital; second, a sufficient amount of the balance then remaining for operation, repair and maintenance of the hospital, for an ensuing period of not less than twelve months, and for depreciation, which amount is required to be placed in a separate account as a reserve for operation, repair and maintenance; and third, the balance remaining after the payment of the two foregoing amounts may be paid by the board to the county court and may be used by it for any other lawful purpose. The section also requires the county court forthwith to pay into the hospital fund all existing funds held by the court or on deposit in any banking institution for the hospital or for its current operation, and to transfer to the hospital board all accounts receivable in favor of the hospital. Section 12 declares that the purpose of the act is to provide for efficient operation of the hospital and its prudent and economical management by the board, and to effectuate that purpose, vests wide discretion and adequate authority in the board.

The controlling question for decision is whether the defendant is a public corporation and, in the operation of the hospital, under the supervision of the trustees, is engaged in the performance of a governmental function. The plaintiff contends that in the operation of the hospital, under the statute, and in accepting and treating her as a patient for hire, the defendant was not engaged in the discharge of a governmental function, but acted in a proprietary capacity and is liable for the damages caused by the negligence of its agents and employees. The defendant insists that it is a public corporation, that in the operation of the hospital it was engaged in the performance of a governmental function, and that it is immune from liability for the negligence of its officers, agents and employees.

It is obvious that the defendant is a public corporation. Its trustees were incorporated, and the hospital was established, by the statute. The title to the hospital property, by the terms of the statute, is vested in the County Court of Monongalia County, which holds the property of the county, a political subdivision of the State, for the benefit of the county, or its citizens and inhabitants, in trust for public purposes. Hall's Safe and Lock Company v. Scites, 38 W.Va. 691, 18 S.E. 895; Foley v. County Court of Doddridge County, 54 W.Va. 16, 46 S.E. 246. See Code, 1931, 7-3-1.

The contention of the plaintiff, that the operation of the hospital by the defendant, when she, a paying patient, was injured, was for profit and in a proprietary capacity instead of in the performance of a governmental function, is not well founded. Neither the public character of the defendant nor the nature of its operation was changed or affected by the payment of dues or charges for the treatment which the plaintiff received as a patient. City of Richmond v. Long's Adm'rs, 17 Grat. 375, 94 Am.Dec. 461; Benton v. Trustees of the City Hospital of the City of Boston, 140 Mass. 13, 1 N.E. 836, 54 Am.Rep. 436; Browder v. City of Henderson, 182 Ky. 771, 207 S.W. 479. In City of Richmond v. Long's Adm'rs, 17 Grat. 375, 94 Am.Dec. 461, an insane slave, while a patient in a municipal hospital, through the alleged negligence of its agents, was permitted to escape and sustained injuries which resulted in his death. The city ordinance required the expense of patients in the hospital to be paid by them or their masters. The Court held that the operation of the hospital was a public function and that the city was not liable for the loss of the slave because of the negligence of its agents. In Benton v. Trustees of the City Hospital of the City of Boston, 140 Mass. 13, 1 N.E. 836, 837, 54 Am.Rep. 436, a city hospital was operated by the trustees, who were incorporated, and the holding was that the trustees were not liable for injuries caused by the negligence of their officers ang agents. In the opinion the Court used this language: 'But we think that this is a hospital maintained by the city, with such aid as may be derived from donations, and the dues received from paying patients, and that the trustees are, in a sense, managing agents only, in maintaining the hospital subject to the laws and to the ordinances of the city. * * * The sums received from paying patients are by the ordinances to be 'credited to the account of the hospital,' and are 'used in the support of the hospital.' * * * The corporation of the trustees of the city hospital of the city of Boston has, in fact, no property. St.1858, c. 113, is a special and not a general statute, and it is permissive and not imperative; but these distinctions do not render the city liable for negligence in the management of the hospital, as has been shown in Tindley v. City of Salem, 137 Mass. 171. The trustees are a body created for the performance of a duty which, under the authority of the statute, the city of Boston has assumed for the benefit of the public, and from the performance of which no profit or advantage is received either by the trustees or the city. The trustees are no more liable for the negligence of their officers and agents than the city would be. The case is governed by the principles declared in Hill v....

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14 cases
  • Daugherty v. Ellis
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • March 12, 1957
    ...or its citizens and inhabitants, in trust for public purposes. Section 1, Article 3, Chapter 7, Code, 1931; Shaffer v. Monongalia General Hospital, 135 W.Va. 163, 62 S.E.2d 795; Foley v. County Court of Doddridge County, 54 W.Va. 16, 46 S.E. 246; Hall's Safe and Lock Company v. Scites, 38 W......
  • Koehler v. Ohio Valley General Hospital Ass'n
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • December 22, 1952
    ...667, which adheres to and approves the doctrine of the Roberts case, or its decision in the recent case of Shaffer v. Monongalia General Hospital, 135 W.Va. 163, 62 S.E.2d 795, which involved the claim for damages for personal injuries of a patient against a public hospital, the title to th......
  • McFillan v. Berkeley County Planning Com'n
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • December 13, 1993
    ...in a governmental capacity." Martin v. Pugh, 175 W.Va. 495, 503, 334 S.E.2d 633, 641 (1985). In Shaffer v. Monongalia General Hospital, 135 W.Va. 163, 169-70, 62 S.E.2d 795, 798 (1950), we "The basic test in determining whether a public corporation, in its operations, is engaged in a discha......
  • Kessel v. MONONGALIA COUNTY GENERAL HOSP.
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • May 19, 2004
    ...property vested in the County Commission of Monongalia County. See Chapter 112, Acts of the Legislature, 1943, Regular Session and Shaffer v. Monongalia General Hospital, 135 W.Va. 163, 62 S.E.2d 795 (1950). In 1974, the Monongalia County General Hospital Company was formed by private indiv......
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