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Swidryk v. Saint Michael''s Medical Center

Decided: March 15, 1985.

JOHN P. SWIDRYK, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
SAINT MICHAEL'S MEDICAL CENTER, WILLIAM J. CORNETTA, JR., LEON SMITH, M.D., JAMES FLANAGAN, M.D., JOSEPH M. BYRNE, INDIVIDUALLY AND TRADING AS JOSEPH M. BYRNE COMPANY AND/OR FRED S. DAVIS COMPANY AND MARYLAND CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANTS



Newman, J.s.c.

Newman

This summary judgment motion raises the novel issue of whether a physician may maintain a cause of action for educational malpractice against a director of medical education for an incident alleged to have occurred during the physician's residency at the medical center.

The underlying claim of malpractice is attributed to negligence in the delivery of a child in July 1973. At that time plaintiff, Dr. John P. Swidryk, had just begun his first year of residency in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Michael's and was in the third week of the program. Dr. Swidryk has been named as a defendant in a malpractice suit for his alleged participation

in the delivery of a child later determined to have severe brain damage.

Dr. Swydryk has brought this declaratory judgment suit against, among others, Dr. Leon Smith, the Director of Medical Education at St. Michael's. It is alleged that Dr. Smith was negligent in failing to supervise adequately the intern and resident program and as a proximate result of Dr. Smith's negligence, Dr. Swidryk has been sued for malpractice. Further, Dr. Swidryk claims Dr. Smith breached a contractual duty to him by failing to provide a suitable environment for a medical educational experience in that Dr. Smith failed to supervise adequately the intern and resident program.

Dr. Smith has moved for summary judgment on a number of grounds; however, this motion will only address the argument that the amended complaint fails to state a cognizable tort or breach of contract. It is mere characterization to label this cause of action a breach of contract. The dominant trend in pleading is to dispose of the technical distinctions between similar causes of action and to achieve substantial justice. M v. F, 95 N.J. Super, 165, 170 (Cty.Ct.1967); see Jersey City v. Hague, 18 N.J. 584 (1955). The public policy considerations which bar the tort claim also act to bar the contract claim. Hunter v. Board of Education of Montgomery County, 292 Md. 481, 439 A.2d 582, 586 n. 5 (1982); Smith v. Alameda Cty. Soc. Serv. Agency, 90 Cal.App. 3d 929, 943, 153 Cal.Rptr. 712, 719 (1979). For the reasons previously stated at oral argument and elaborated on in this opinion, the court concludes that there is no cause of action for educational malpractice either on a tort or contract theory.

The foundation of Dr. Swidryk's claim is that Dr. Smith's conduct was negligent in that his actions as director of medical education fell below the standard of care essential to protect others from an unreasonable risk of harm. The vast majority

of courts to consider this issue have refused to recognize a cause of action for educational malpractice.*fn1

The first reported case to consider the issue of educational malpractice was Peter W. v. San Francisco Unified School District, 60 Cal.App. 3d 814, 131 Cal.Rptr. 854 (1976). There, plaintiff was an 18-year old who graduated from high school without basic academic skills such as reading and writing. The court held that although the school board had a duty to provide a proper education to plaintiff within the common usage of the term "duty," the board did not have a legal duty upon which a claim of negligence could be based. Id., 131 Cal.Rptr. at 859. The court refused to find the existence of a legal duty for several reasons. For one, the conflicting theories of the science of pedagogy prevented the construction of a workable rule of care. In other words, different but acceptable scientific methods of academic training made it unfeasible to formulate a standard by which to judge the conduct of those delivering the services. Second, the nature of the claim prevents a finding of legal causation. For example, failure in schools could stem from a variety of factors including the student's physical, neurological, emotional, cultural and environmental background, as well as the actual system itself. Lastly, school systems are already beset by social and financial problems for which no solution is yet available. To expose the schools to

liability in light of the above policy considerations would be an undue burden on society. Id., ...


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