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Mclaughlin v. Rush-presbyterian Med. Center





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JACQUES F. HEILINGOETTER, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, James A. McLaughlin, brought suit against defendant, Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center, *fn1 for personal injuries sustained when a subclavian catheter was lost in plaintiff's body due to defendant's alleged negligence. After the case was tried before a jury on the theory of res ipsa loquitur, a verdict was returned for defendant and judgment was entered accordingly.

The issue which plaintiff presents for review is whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence of a post-occurrence catheter design modification made by the manufacturer the year after plaintiff's injuries were sustained.

We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Plaintiff was admitted to defendant hospital on April 14, 1973. On April 19, 1973, a subclavian catheter was inserted into a large central vein under plaintiff's clavicle to permit intravenous feeding of a glucose substance and to monitor plaintiff's central venous pressure. This procedure involved the insertion of a 12-inch piece of catheter tubing. Four to five inches of the tubing remained outside the body, fastened by a suture and covered by a dressing. At the exposed end of the catheter, a metal coupler fastened the catheter to a larger intravenous tube which connected to a hanging bottle containing the glucose solution.

The catheter was completely covered by a dressing so that only the coupler could be directly viewed without removing the dressing. It was possible to determine that the apparatus was functioning satisfactorily from the results of central venous pressure readings and from the unimpeded flow of the intravenous fluid.

The coupler on the catheter in use at the time of the incident connected the catheter and the intravenous tube by friction. Defendant introduced evidence at trial, through the testimony of the assistant director of purchasing for the hospital, that the manufacturer of the catheter modified the design of its product in 1974 to include a screw adaptor on the coupler which locked the catheter to intravenous tubing. This testimony is challenged on appeal. Plaintiff also objects to certain testimony of one of the attending physicians regarding possible defects in the catheter.

An ulcer operation was performed on plaintiff on April 24, 1973. When leakage of the intravenous glucose fluid in the area of the catheter was noticed two days later, it was discovered that the exposed end of the catheter had become disengaged and that the catheter had slipped inside plaintiff's body. X rays were taken and an unsuccessful attempt was made to surgically recover the catheter. Later X rays indicated that the catheter had become lodged in the right ventricle of plaintiff's heart. The catheter has not been removed and the coupler which connected the catheter to the intravenous tubing was not recovered.

After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant hospital. Judgment was entered on the verdict. Upon the denial of his timely post trial motion, plaintiff appealed.


Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in allowing defendant to introduce evidence of post-occurrence modifications made by the manufacturer in the catheter's design. Defendant argues that this evidence was properly offered to show an alternative explanation of the occurrence which involved no negligence on the part of defendant.

Plaintiff cites Day v. Barber-Colman Co. (1956), 10 Ill. App.2d 494, 135 N.E.2d 231, for the general rule that evidence of post-occurrence change of conditions, repairs or precautions is not admissible as evidence of negligence. (See also Seipp v. Chicago Transit Authority (1973), 12 Ill. App.3d 852, 299 N.E.2d 330.) Two grounds have been offered for the development of this rule — policy and relevance. Sutkowski v. Universal Marion Corp. (1972), 5 Ill. App.3d 313, 281 N.E.2d 749.

• 1 First, evidence of post-occurrence changes has been excluded on policy grounds to avoid discouraging defendants from improving the place or thing that had caused the injury. (Sutkowski v. Universal Marion Corp. (1972), 5 Ill. App.3d 313, 281 N.E.2d 749.) In our opinion there is no policy reason for excluding evidence of post-occurrence catheter design modifications in this case because the manufacturer of the product is not a party to the suit. The evidence of post-occurrence change in the catheter design did not prejudice the manufacturer nor was it introduced to prove the manufacturer's negligence. Accord, Denolf v. Frank L. Jursik Co. (1976), 395 Mich. 661, 238 N.W.2d 1; McLaughlin v. Great Lakes Contracting Co. (1978), 82 Mich. App. 729, 267 N.W.2d 489.

Lack of relevancy has been advanced as the second reason for excluding evidence of post-occurrence change. Authorities relying on this ground theorize that "[t]o improve the condition of the injury-causing object is therefore to indicate a belief merely that it has been capable of causing such an injury, but indicates nothing more * * *." (2 Wigmore, Evidence § 283, at 151 (3d ed. 1940).) However, if relevancy is the only criterion to be considered, Professors Wigmore and McCormick agree that evidence of post-occurrence modifications would meet ...

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