In an opinion issued on April 28, 2015, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania determined that the medical malpractice plaintiff had properly pled vicarious liability and corporate negligence as causes of action against the medical malpractice defendants (a hospital and a health care system).
The Alleged Underlying Facts
The plaintiff, who was the administrator of the decedent’s estate, had alleged in his Amended Complaint that the decedent was admitted to the defendant hospital on March 12, 2010 to undergo a tracheotomy as a result of his emphysema. After the tracheotomy, the decedent was alert and responsive until March 18, 2010, when he was permitted to either attempt to leave his bed unassisted or fell out of his bed. The decedent’s fall resulted in the dislocation of his catheter, and surgery had to be scheduled because the catheter could not be replaced at his bedside.
During the surgery, the defendant surgeon allegedly lacerated the decedent’s bladder, gauze was negligently left in the decedent’s body, and there was blood in the decedent’s urine. The decedent developed septic shock and died on April 2, 2010.
Two counts of the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleged vicarious liability and corporate negligence regarding the defendant hospital and defendant health care system: the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleged vicarious liability for the negligence of “nursing staff, attending physicians and other attending personnel” acting within the scope of their employment “as agents, servants, or employees” of the defendants.
In response to motions filed by the defendants that argued that the allegations of agency did not satisfy the pleading requirements for an agency relationship, the trial court struck all allegations of vicarious liability against the defendant hospital and defendant health care system for the acts of “unidentified agents, servants, employees, attending physicians, nursing staff, other support staff, administrators, boards and committees.” The plaintiff appealed.
The Superior Court’s Decision
The Superior Court stated that it is not necessary for a plaintiff to establish a right to recover on a claim for vicarious liability based upon the negligence of a specific named employee. The Superior Court further stated that the purpose of pleadings is to put a defendant on notice of the claims upon which it will have to defend, and that a complaint must give a defendant fair notice of the plaintiff’s claims and a summary of the material facts that support those claims. In assessing whether particular paragraphs in a complaint satisfy this requirement, they must be read in context with all other allegations in the complaint to determine whether the defendant has been provided adequate notice of the claim against which it must defend.
In the present case, the Superior Court noted that the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint set forth the material allegations of negligence upon which his claims for vicarious liability against the defendants were based, including the decedent’s fall that caused the dislocation of his catheter, the surgery during which the decedent’s bladder was severely lacerated, and the gauze left in the wound after the stitches had been applied, all allegedly resulting in the development of septic shock that caused the decedent’s death.
While the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint did not identify the nurses or doctors allegedly responsible (except for the doctors named as defendants), the names of those who performed services in connection with the decedent’s care are either known to the defendant hospital and defendant health care system or could have been ascertained during discovery. Therefore, the Superior Court held that when read in the context of the allegations of the Amended Complaint, the plaintiff’s references to “nursing staff, attending physicians and other attending personnel” and “agents, servants, or employees” were not lacking in sufficient specificity and did not fail to plead a cause of action against the defendant hospital and defendant health care system for vicarious liability.
Source Denmark v. Williams, et al., 2015 PA Super 101.
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