Friday, April 30, 2021

Claim of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Allowed to Proceed in Med Mal Case

In the case of J.J.W. v. Suppiah, No. 2020-SU-002045 (C.P. York Co. Jan. 25, 2021 Adams, J.), the court denied the Preliminary Objections filed by medical malpractice Defendants to a Plaintiff’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.   

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs were the parents of a minor who was four (4) years old at the time he underwent eye surgery at a hospital.   During the course of the surgery, the minor was administered 10 mg of Morphine, which was allegedly approximately eight (8) times the recommended dose.   

When the minor was discharged from the hospital, he was not fully conscious.  It was alleged that, during the discharge process, the parent Plaintiff did not receive any information that anyone had administered Morphine to the child, nor were they given instructions or warnings regarding the potential harmful effects that Morphine could cause their child.

Later, when the parent Plaintiffs noticed that they child was not waking up, they took him to the emergency room at the hospital.  The child was transferred to a pediatric intensive care unit at another hospital.  Testing revealed that the Plaintiff suffered from opioid toxicity.  The minor Plaintiff had to undergo extensive rehabilitation.   

The Plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice lawsuit.  The hospital filed Preliminary Objections arguing that the Plaintiff’s claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress should be dismissed because the Plaintiff did not demonstrate the necessary special relationship with the hospital and because the Plaintiff did not witness the administration of the Morphine.   

With regard to the special relationship argument, the parent Plaintiff responded that they were required to sign all consent forms due to the child’s age and that the discharged papers were provided to them.   They additionally argued that the child’s inability to understand his medical care meant that the hospital had a duty to provide his parents with important information and discharge instructions, which the Plaintiffs alleged were grossly inadequate and incomplete.   

The Plaintiffs additionally asserted that, when the child was near death, it was foreseeable that the parent’s shock and emotional distress resulted in anxiety, headaches, sleep disturbance, crying spells, fear, depression, and mental and emotional anguish.  

The court overruled the Preliminary Objections after finding that the Plaintiff had provided sufficient facts to support their claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.   The court agreed that the Plaintiff did not need to witness the negligent administration of the Morphine to support their claim because that was only one aspect of the underlying claims against the hospital.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 23, 2021).

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