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Renrick v. City of Newark

Decided: May 9, 1962.


Price, Sullivan and Lewis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Price, S.j.a.d.


[74 NJSuper Page 201] This is a negligence action based on the alleged malpractice of doctors and nurses at Martland Medical Center (Martland), operated by the City of Newark. Plaintiff Georgie Lee Renrick appeals from the dismissal of her suit in the Superior Court on defendant's motion at the conclusion of plaintiff's case. R.R. 4:42-2(b). The sole

question presented is whether plaintiff, who produced no expert testimony in support of her claim, was entitled on the proofs submitted to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. The trial court's rejection of that contention is challenged as erroneous.

The complaint charged that plaintiff, while a patient at Martland, "was seriously and permanently injured and scarred" by reason of acts of "carelessness and negligence" of defendant, amounting to "active wrongdoing and positive misfeasance" on the part of "its staff, doctors, nurses, internes, agents, servants and employees."

In the pretrial order plaintiff charged that while she was hospitalized at Martland following abdominal surgery, a drug known as "Levophed" was "internally administered" in such a "negligent manner" as to cause "severe burning or sloughing" of both forearms, requiring "skin grafting" with resultant "widespread scarring." Defendant's contention, expressed in the pretrial order, was that plaintiff was admitted to the hospital in a critical condition suffering from a "ruptured gastric ulcer" and "diffuse peritonitis," requiring surgery; that she was in "complete shock" following the operation; that she was "moribund" during the postoperative period; that her condition was so grave that "multiple blood transfusions" were received, "various stimulating drugs" administered and "Levophed" was intravenously given to overcome her "circulatory collapse" which was so extensive as to constitute a "complete failure of [plaintiff's] peripheral circulation." Defendant further contended that the infiltration of Levophed "into the soft tissue" (charged by plaintiff to be the result of defendant's negligence) was "unavoidable due to [plaintiff's] collapsed and fragile vessels while she was in shock." Plaintiff does not challenge the fact (alleged by defendant) that plaintiff's life was "saved" by the use of the drug in question.

Plaintiff's proofs on the issue of liability were limited to (a) her own testimony; (b) the Martland records pertaining to her hospitalization, revealing the abdominal operation,

the introduction of Levophed intravenously, the amount thereof and how administered, and the subsequent operative procedures on November 8, 1957 and December 3, 1957, when, by reason of the necrosis of the skin of the forearms, "secondary to levophed infiltration" the aforesaid skin grafts were made; (c) interrogatories propounded by her to defendant and its answers thereto; and (d) photographs of plaintiff's forearms showing the aforesaid scarring and photographs revealing scars on her thigh and abdomen from which skin grafts had been taken.

The proofs showed that plaintiff, a 36-year-old resident of New York, became ill while visiting relatives in Newark. She consulted a doctor who on the following day advised her immediate hospitalization. She entered Martland on October 12, 1957, and the operation was performed on October 14, 1957. The operation, as described in the hospital records was "Closure ruptured ulcer." The preoperative diagnosis was "Ruptured ulcer"; the postoperative diagnosis was "Ruptured gastric ulcer -- 3 days duration." The hospital records offered by plaintiff further revealed that plaintiff went into shock following her operation, and because thereof, as stated above, Levophed was administered intravenously.

Defendant answered affirmatively one of the aforesaid interrogatories which inquired whether defendant knew "that Levophed could be highly dangerous to tissue if not supervised carefully and that it had the potentialities of sloughing tissue." Further answers set forth in detail the manner in which the Levophed had been administered, the progress of the treatment, and its subsequent discontinuance when infiltration into the tissue was detected.

On this state of the proofs defendant's aforesaid motion for involuntary dismissal was made on the ground that no evidence had been presented establishing defendant's negligence or from which its negligence might be inferred.

In resisting defendant's motion plaintiff's trial counsel, after emphasizing the results of the ...

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