Trepanier v. McKenna, 38712

Decision Date27 December 1963
Docket NumberNo. 38712,38712
Citation267 Minn. 145,125 N.W.2d 603
PartiesFrank TREPANIER, Respondent, v. Dr. M. J. McKENNA et al., Defendants, and Itasca Memorial Hospital, Appellant.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

Where a hospital patient suffered injury by falling from a portable commode after he was placed thereon and left unattended, question whether precautions taken by the hospital under particular combination of circumstances shown constituted negligence was for the jury.

Murphy & Preece, Grand Rapids, Mahoney & Mahoney, Minneapolis, for appellant.

Joseph W. Ryan, Aitkin, for respondent.


Appeal from a judgment entered pursuant to a verdict awarding plaintiff $3,100 damages for personal injuries sustained in a fall while he was a patient in defendant hospital.

Plaintiff sued his attending doctors as well as the hospital, alleging negligence. The court directed a verdict in favor of the doctors 1 and submitted the issues of negligence, proximate cause, contributory negligence, and damages against only the hospital.

The sole question presented for review is whether the evidence was sufficient to warrant submission of the issue of negligence to the jury.

The facts established by the testimony are undisputed except for conflicting versions of plaintiff's description of the accident. On September 14, 1960, plaintiff entered defendant hospital, a county-owned hospital located in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He was then 86 years old and had been under treatment since August 6, 1956, by Dr. C. J. Johnson and Dr. M. J. McKenna of the Grand Rapids Clinic. He consulted them for ulceration of his toes and was receiving treatment for recurring ulceration and for a progressive decreased and diminishing circulation in his feet. He was also diabetic. His condition upon admission to the hospital was described by Dr. Johnson as follows:

'Well, in essence this was an aged man, and my primary concern at the time he was admitted to the hospital was his right foot. He had developed at this time gangrene of his right third toe, which had become infected. He had some edema or swelling in both lower extremities, particularly the legs, ankles and feet, and he had pain particularly in his entire right foot. He had very shiny, red, thin skin over both legs and feet, which is characteristic of advancing arteriosclerosis or obliteration of the blood supply.

'At the time of admission (gangrene) involved primarily the entire right foot, with a U-shaped area extending up on the sole of the foot in what we would call the ball of the foot at the base of the toes.'

The doctor also testified that plaintiff suffered variable degrees of pain from the gangrenous condition; that he could not 'by and large' stand on his right foot without severe pain; and that he could not walk without assistance. Neither doctor gave any special orders to the hospital concerning attending to plaintiff's toilet needs because they regarded this part of the care as routine hospital activity involving no need for particular medical advice.

Plaintiff was hospitalized to improve his general physical status in the hope of controlling the infection and his diabetes and to permit the gangrenous toe to 'drop off' which, short of amputation, was the only possiblity of relieving his pain. After the first 10 days of hospitalization, his diabetic condition was controlled and the infection improved, but his diminished blood supply caused the gangrene to advance so that it involved one-third of his right foot.

Both Dr. Johnson's testimony and the nurses' notes on the hospital charts establish that plaintiff was seldom free of pain in his foot and very often, from plaintiff's complaints and by observation, it was recorded that his pain was 'sharp' and 'severe' and that his 'foot became extremely painful when up.' He was given demerol, a pain-relieving drug, from the time of his admission. Two days before his fall, the nurses' notes stated, 'Gets up by self when he doesn't know what to do to relieve pain.' The hospital record also reveals that shortly after his admission he attempted to climb out of bed; that bedrails were put on his bed; that he constantly complained of his discomfort; and that he was irritable, often noisy, apprehensive, and confused.

About September 23 or 24, with plaintiff's knowledge and consent, a decision was reached to amputate his right foot on September 27 in order to relieve his pain and stop the gangrene from advancing.

About noon on September 26 (his 12th hospital day), a nurses' aid and a practical nurse, two employees who performed their work under the direction of the nurses, placed plaintiff on a portable commode. There were no straps or other device to hold plaintiff upon the seat. The nurses' aid was called by plaintiff for cross-examination and testified that after they assisted him to the commode they told him to let them know 'when he was done.' There was a combination hall light and buzzer located within plaintiff's reach, but he did not remember seeing it. The call light could not be seen except in the corridor, although the nurses' aid testified that the buzzer could be heard in the room adjoining plaintiff's room where the employees had gone to give another patient a backrub. They were gone for less than 5 minutes and were called back after plaintiff had fallen. When they returned, another nurses' aid was helping him back to the bed. Dr. Johnson visited plaintiff shortly thereafter and testified that plaintiff gave him this version of the fall:

'I asked Mr. Trepanier what had happened. 'I fell down.' 'Well, how?' 'I was on the commode, I didn't think I could wait for the girls to come back and help me back to bed so I tried to get back to bed by myself and I fell."

Plaintiff testified that when he was in the hospital he was 'a little off (his) head'; that he experienced sharp pains in his foot every once in a while; that he told the employees he was 'dizzy' when they placed him on the commode; and also that they left him and were gone 'quite a little bit long.' During his testimony he gave this version of his fall:

'Well, I was right there and all at once the thing went right through my foot and my foot was all rotted, and I jumped right up in the air and that is all I can remember.

'There was an...

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5 cases
  • Miller v. Trinity Medical Center, 9352
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 10 November 1977
    ...patient commensurate with its actual or constructive knowledge of the patient's physical and mental condition." Trepanier v. McKenna, 267 Minn. 145, 125 N.W.2d 603, 606 (1963); Warner v. Kiowa County Hospital Authority, 551 P.2d 1179 (Okl.App.1976). The New York Court of Appeals restated th......
  • Calcagno v. Emery
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals
    • 21 May 2012
    ...provides routine care, the Minnesota Supreme Court has applied the ordinary-negligence standard of care. Trepanier v. McKenna, 267 Minn. 145, 149, 125 N.W.2d 603, 606 (Minn. 1963) ("It is well established in this state that a hospital . . . in the performance of routine care of a patient ow......
  • Edwards v. Benchmark Healthcare of Minneapolis, Inc., Court File No. 27 CV 06-7685.
    • United States
    • Minnesota District Court
    • 20 November 2006
    ...actual or constructive knowledge of the patient's physical and mental condition.'" 384 N.W.2d at 918, quoting Trepanier v. McKenna, 267 Minn. 145, 149, 125 N.W.2d 603, 606 (1963) (supervision of disabled patient who fell while getting off of a portable commode involved routine, administrati......
  • Kanter v. Metropolitan Medical Center
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals
    • 15 April 1986 Miller v. Trinity Medical Center, 260 N.W.2d 4 (N.D.1977), which cited, inter alia, the Minnesota case of Trepanier v. McKenna, 267 Minn. 145, 125 N.W.2d 603 (1963). Miller, 260 N.W.2d at The Minnesota Supreme Court has also distinguished between actions which require professional judgme......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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