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Sesselman v. Muhlenberg Hospital

Decided: June 22, 1973.

MARY SESSELMAN AND PATRICK SESSELMAN, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MUHLENBERG HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT, AND DR. CHARLES HELY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT



Kolovsky, Matthews and Crahay.

Per Curiam

In this medical malpractice action plaintiffs had judgment entered in their favor on a jury verdict against defendants Dr. Hely and Muhlenberg Hospital.

The jury assessed damages in favor of plaintiff Mary in the sum of $55,000 for personal injury damages, and plaintiff Patrick per quod in the sum of $3,500. Defendant Hely thereupon moved (1) to enter judgment in his favor notwithstanding the verdict, (2) for a new trial on all issues, (3) for a new trial on damages on the grounds that they were excessive and against the weight of the evidence, and (4) for a remittitur of the damages. The motion for a remittitur was granted -- Mary's award being reduced from $55,000 to $40,000 and Patrick's from $3,500 to $3,000.

Defendant Hely's other motions were denied and he appeals, urging a variety of trial errors and further that the damages as remitted are excessive.*fn1

The record reflects this essential factual background --

Plaintiff Mary engaged defendant Dr. Hely, a licensed physician and specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, for

prenatal care on June 11, 1968. On December 22, 1968 Mary was admitted to Muhlenberg Hospital for the delivery of her baby. Prior to the actual delivery of the child, anesthesia was administered by a certified registered nurse anesthetist, one Mrs. Brownbach, an employee of Muhlenberg Hospital. Mrs. Brownbach was qualified as an anesthetist, having received special graduate instruction in that art and training. Nurse anesthetists were employed by the hospital rather than physician anesthesiologists since they were available 24 hours a day and since the time of delivery of babies could not be predicted or scheduled in advance.

The administration of the anesthesia involved the insertion of an airway into plaintiff's mouth. In addition to the airway, a catheter was inserted into her mouth through the airway and into her throat. The record contains facts and disputed inferences as to the actual manner in which plaintiff suffered her injury. In any event, it is clear that during the course of delivery she suffered damage to her teeth and mouth as a result of the administration of the anesthesia.

Fair inferences for jury consideration as to the causative factors in the damage to plaintiff's mouth were that she either had her mouth struck by a metal device during the course of the administration of anesthesia or that she bit down on an unprotected metal device while vomiting, the result of a foreseeable laryngospasm. Either version, which the jury might fairly infer was a proximate cause of the injury, could very properly be found to have been culpable negligence on the part of the anesthetist, Mrs. Brownbach. (It was also alleged to have been negligence on the part of Dr. Hely in failing to advise Mrs. Brownbach that plaintiff Mary had eaten, therefore rendering likely the possibility of vomiting, and thus misleading Mrs. Brownbach in her choice of anesthesia.)

Plaintiff's medical expert, one Dr. Heller, testified in response to a question as to the manner in which defendant Dr. Hely deviated from standard medical practice:

In just about every area which is involved, since Dr. Hely is, first of all, in charge of the entire procedure in the delivery room, anything that goes wrong is his responsibility whether he had done it or ...


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