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Johnson v. St. Bernard Hospital





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. DAVID A. CANEL, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Lovie Johnson, administrator of the estate of Samuel Johnson, brought this survival and wrongful death action against defendants, Dr. Isaac Thapedi and St. Bernard Hospital, based on defendants' alleged negligent care and treatment of plaintiff's intestate. The circuit court of Cook County granted summary judgment in favor of defendant St. Bernard Hospital. Plaintiff appeals, contending that material questions of fact exist which preclude the entry of summary judgment and that the hospital is not entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for additional proceedings.

On November 4, 1974, Samuel Johnson was injured when struck by an automobile. He was taken to the emergency room at St. Bernard Hospital where he was examined by Dr. Gilberto Arevalo and treated for a head injury. Johnson was then admitted to the hospital under the care of defendant Dr. Isaac Thapedi, a staff neurosurgeon. Two days after the accident, on November 6, 1974, Johnson was examined by a physician who was identified by Dr. Thapedi as Dr. Drumright, a house physician employed by the hospital to take histories and give physical examinations.

On January 14, 1975, approximately 2 1/2 months after admission to the hospital, it was discovered that Johnson was suffering from an intertrochanteric fracture of the left hip. After discovering the fracture, Dr. Thapedi requested orthopedic consultation from Dr. Allen Wright, an orthopedic surgeon on the staff of St. Bernard Hospital and chairman of the department of orthopedics at the hospital. Dr. Wright refused to see Johnson in consultation for Dr. Thapedi.

After Dr. Wright refused to see his patient, Dr. Thapedi, in compliance with the hospital bylaws, advised the hospital administration that Dr. Wright refused to see Johnson. St. Bernard Hospital bylaw 14 provides:

"Urgent consultation shall be answered within 24 hours from the time requested, and all other consultations shall be answered within 48 hours. After 48 hours if consultation is not answered, administration shall be notified."

The administration told Dr. Thapedi that it had no authority to force Dr. Wright to see his patient and suggested that Dr. Thapedi obtain an orthopedic consultation from outside the hospital. Johnson remained in the hospital until his death on February 14, 1975, one month after discovery of the fracture and without having been examined by an orthopedic surgeon.

Plaintiff filed this action on February 10, 1976. With regard to the hospital, the amended complaint alleged that Johnson's aggravated injuries and eventual death were the proximate result of one or more of the following negligent acts:

"(a) Failed to have proper emergency room care given to a patient;

(b) Contrary to its rules and regulations, failed to insure that the patient got prompt and adequate attention;

(c) Contrary to its rules and regulations, failed to have proper and adequate orthopaedic consultation."

The hospital answered the amended complaint, denying that it had been negligent in the care and treatment of Johnson.

On January 18, 1978, plaintiff's qualified medical expert, Dr. Farag Loutfy, gave his discovery deposition. Dr. Loutfy had reviewed the hospital medical records concerning Johnson's care and treatment, copies of certain hospital bylaws, and Dr. Thapedi's deposition. Dr. Loutfy explained that Johnson's intertrochanteric hip fracture was undoubtedly caused by the initial trauma of the automobile accident. A classic characteristic of this type of hip fracture is an externally rotated or everted leg. When the leg is manipulated during examination, it will flop back into the everted position.

The first aspect of Johnson's care and treatment criticized by Dr. Loutfy was the initial examination performed by the emergency room physician, Dr. Arevalo. In Dr. Loutfy's opinion, a thorough examination of Johnson's lower limbs, including X ray of the hips, was called for because of the manner in which Johnson had sustained his injuries. During a thorough examination, Dr. Loutfy stated the physician should have noticed the everted position of the leg and discovered the fracture.

Dr. Loutfy also discussed a physical examination conducted on November 6, 1974, two days after Johnson was admitted to the hospital. According to the deposition of Dr. Thapedi, this examination was performed by Dr. Drumright, a house physician. From his evaluation of the hospital medical records, Dr. Loutfy indicated that the examining physician apparently failed to completely examine the patient's lower extremities or notice the everted position of Johnson's leg.

Finally, Dr. Loutfy discussed the failure of the treating physician and the hospital to secure consultation of an orthopedic surgeon after Johnson's hip fracture was diagnosed on January 14, 1975. Referring to St. Bernard Hospital bylaw 14, Dr. Loutfy stated that the hospital administration should have insured that an orthopedic consultation was obtained in Johnson's case. With regard to the hospital's duty to obtain a consultation for the patient, Dr. Loutfy stated:

"A. My only criticism is the fact that there, we have a patient lying in the hospital with a problem for so long, and when it was discovered, there is nothing done about it, because No. 1, the physician that was asked for consultation declined it several times. No. 2, another orthopedic man was not consulted. No. 3, the administration sat there without doing something about it.

THE WITNESS: I say it is the responsibility of the hospital administration to see to it that an orthopedic consultation is done when requested, for the well-being ...

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