Appeal by defendants from the Circuit Court of Fayette county;
the Hon. F.R. DOVE, Judge, presiding. Heard in this court at the
February term, 1950. Reversed. Opinion filed April 28, 1950.
Released for publication May 29, 1950.
MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE BARDENS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.
Patricia Kay Brock, an infant, by Lewis Clinton Brock, her father and next friend, filed suit in the circuit court of Fayette county against W.T. Vancil, R.L. Vancil, Isabelle Vancil and Kay B. Vancil, doing business as Vancil's Funeral and Ambulance Service, and Vivian Margaret Sheedy to recover damages for personal injuries. The complaint charges that the defendants appellants, W.T. Vancil, R.L. Vancil, Isabelle Vancil and Kay B. Vancil, doing business as Vancil's Funeral and Ambulance Service, were owners of a motor vehicle especially equipped to transport sick and invalid people to hospitals and clinics and represented themselves to the public as being specialists in this business for hire; that the defendant, Vivian Margaret Sheedy, was a student nurse at St. John's Hospital, Springfield, Illinois; that said defendants were guilty of negligence while jointly undertaking to transport for hire, the plaintiff, Patricia Kay Brock, a prematurely born infant, from Salem Memorial Hospital at Salem, Illinois, to the City of Springfield, Illinois. It is charged that this negligence resulted in the plaintiff suffering third degree burns over her entire body when the incubator in which she was riding caught fire. To this complaint the defendants appellants filed an answer denying each and every of the material allegations therein except those allegations neither admitted or denied because of insufficient knowledge.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants appellants, W.T. Vancil, R.L. Vancil, Isabelle Vancil and Kay B. Vancil, doing business as Vancil's Funeral and Ambulance Service and assessed the damages of the plaintiff in the amount of $20,000. The defendant, Vivian Margaret Sheedy, was found not guilty. No further action was taken against her and this appeal does not involve said nurse in any way. The motion of the appellants for a new trial was allowed solely on the grounds that the verdict was excessive. The court held that if the plaintiff would file a written remittitur of $5,000 within 30 days that the motion for a new trial by the appellants would be denied. Such remittitur was filed with judgment being entered in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants appellants, W.T. Vancil, R.L. Vancil, Isabelle Vancil and Kay B. Vancil, for $15,000 and costs of suit.
The evidence introduced at the trial reveals that on March 7, 1947, the appellants owned a 1946 Chevrolet Tudor Sedan, which was specially fitted as an ambulance for the transportation of premature infants. The front seat had been taken out and two seats were replaced so that they would fold over making more room on the side opposite the driver. Racks were installed directly behind the driver's seat to hold oxygen tanks. When engaged in a transportation of premature infants, the electric incubator was placed on the back seat. The incubator received electric current by means of a cord, one end of which was plugged into the incubator, the other end into a specially built six volt outlet in the dash board of the ambulance. The battery of the car furnished the power. Alongside the socket inlet of the incubator there was a light which is normally illuminated when the cord is plugged in the incubator and electricity is passing through said cord.
The incubator and the electric cord supplying electricity from the dash board of the ambulance were both furnished by the State. When a child had been placed in the incubator, oxygen was supplied to the incubator from the oxygen tanks. The attending nurse regulated the oxygen supply, watched the temperature gauge on the incubator and checked to see that the baby's breathing was normal.
On the morning in question Mr. James H. Barry, employee of the Vancil Funeral Home, was instructed to go to Salem at about 9:30 a.m. He drove to St. John's Hospital in the specially equipped ambulance described above and there picked up the defendant, Vivian Margaret Sheedy, incubator No. 2295 and a couple of oxygen tanks. With Miss Sheedy, he then drove to Salem, Illinois, where they arrived at the approximate hour of 1:00 p.m.
When arriving at the hospital at Salem, Mr. Barry helped the nurse carry the incubator up into the hospital and left the oxygen tanks in the ambulance. He then talked with the mother of the plaintiff and gave her a form of receipt for the plaintiff. He had no part in preparing the baby for her journey or in preparing the incubator. After the baby was in the incubator and ready to go to the ambulance, Mr. Barry again helped the nurse carry the incubator to the car and place it within. Mr. Barry plugged the cord into the dashboard and the nurse plugged the other end of the cord into the incubator. She also connected the oxygen tanks to the incubator and then said that she was ready to proceed to Springfield. She told Mr. Barry that the little light on the incubator did not light. Shortly after leaving Salem, Mr. Barry asked the nurse if the light was on or if heat was coming through and she said that it was not. He then made attempts to see that the cord was properly connected and then headed back towards Salem to have the cord checked. This was done at a filling station. When assured by the station attendant that electricity was coming through the cord, Mr. Barry connected the cord properly and started toward Springfield. The light in the incubator still did not work. Mr. Barry told the nurse that all the heat he had was from the gasoline heater, that he did not believe that it would be enough for the baby and asked her what they should do. The nurse instructed him to drive on. The ambulance was driven towards Springfield to a point on Route No. 51 about five or six miles south of Vandalia when the nurse exclaimed, "This is on fire." She threw the incubator open and pulled the baby out while flames were leaping from the incubator. While she held the baby, Mr. Barry pulled the burning blankets from it and threw the burning incubator outside of the car and onto the ground. He extinguished the fire by pulling the mattress and blanket out of the incubator and then beating out the flames. The heating element of the incubator was located at the bottom. Mr. Barry noticed that a string of four safety pins were lying on the bottom of the incubator. Almost immediately an ambulance came by and took the baby on to Vandalia.
Mr. Russell L. Vancil, being informed of the incident, picked up another incubator in his ambulance and came to Vandalia. The baby was placed in this incubator. Mr. Russell L. Vancil drove the baby on to Springfield using the same cord and the same ambulance as had been used prior to the accident but using the replaced incubator. The incubator heated properly. An examination disclosed that the baby was burned and permanently scarred, primarily on the left side of its face, including its left eye, nose and mouth and also suffered burns over the rest of its body.
The testimony of Vivian Margaret Sheedy agreed substantially with Mr. Barry's story. She stated that the incubator started to heat after the cord was checked in Salem and that she assumed the incubator was working properly. Her testimony was also to the effect that neither Mr. Barry nor none of the appellants gave her instructions as to care of the incubator or exercised any control over it other than helping her carry it to and from the ambulance.
Dr. Maurice T. Horsman testified that he was the doctor attending the mother of the plaintiff and that with the permission of the plaintiff's parents, he had directed that the plaintiff be taken to the St. John's Hospital at Springfield, Illinois. He also testified as to the permanency and character of the scars sustained by the plaintiff. His testimony was to the effect that the plaintiff was permanently scarred and did sustain a great deal of injury to her face. Although plastic surgery might remedy this defect somewhat, it could never cure it completely.
Mrs. Brock, mother of the plaintiff, also testified that she talked with Mr. Barry at the time her baby was taken from the hospital in Salem. She testified that Mr. Barry had assured her that he was with the Vancil Ambulance Company, that they specialized in the transporting of premature infants, that good care would be taken of the baby and that she need not worry about her baby.
Appellants' testimony reveals that on the day in question they had a contract with the Department of Public Health, Springfield, Illinois, to transport premature infants from place of birth to the St. John's Hospital Premature Center in Springfield. Appellants were to be paid in proportion with the distance traveled. Their contract is summarized as follows:
Upon receipt of request for ambulance service from Springfield or an outlying area, the hospital premature station will call your office immediately. It is expected that your ambulance or automobile will then come to the St. John's Hospital, with as little delay as possible. Your driver will pick up a portable premature incubator and a graduate nurse from St. John's Hospital Premature Center and transport both to the place of birth of the infant. The infant will be transported in the portable incubator under the constant supervision of the graduate nurse from the St. John's Hospital Premature Center. Your responsibility, in the case of each infant, will end only when the infant, the incubator, and the nurse have been returned to St. John's Hospital Premature Center with as much dispatch as possible. (Italics ours.)
When parents of a premature child certified that certain facts existed, the Department of Health undertook to transport these infants to accredited institutions for care of ...