In Palmer, a patient sued a hospital alleging that an employee of the hospital negligently fastened the patient's feet to the operating table, seriously and permanently injuring her feet. Palmer, 40 So.2d at 582.Summary of this case from Brown v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, Inc.
May 23, 1949.
1. Negligence — evidence — res ipsa loquitur.
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is applicable under three conditions: (a) the accident must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence, (b) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant, and (c) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.
2. Negligence — evidence — res ipsa loquitur.
The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does not create a case of liability, but simply raises a presumption or makes out a prima facie case of negligence to the extent that the defendant is called on to meet it with an explanation — the same result as is effected under the general rules applying to circumstantial evidence.
3. Negligence — proof by circumstantial evidence.
Proof of the fact of negligence may rest entirely upon circumstantial evidence, including the causal connection between an agency and the injury complained of, and when the facts and attendant circumstances are such as to take the case out of the realm of conjecture and within the field of legitimate inference, a prima facie case of negligence may be thereby made out.
4. Private hospitals — liability for negligence.
The owner or proprietor of a private hospital, operated for profit is liable in damage for the negligence of his employees.
5. Private hospitals — negligence — case sufficient to go to jury.
The case where patient's feet were kept strapped to operating table during an operation, cutting off blood circulation for a period of forty-five minutes, resulting in gangrenous spores at points where straps had been applied, was sufficient to go to the jury on the issue of negligence.
Headnotes as approved by Hall, J.
APPEAL from the circuit court of Coahoma; E.H. GREEN, J.
V.J. Brocato and Stovall Lowrey, for appellant.
The learned lower court to a large extent based his action in sustaining the motion of appellee upon the case of Sanders et ux v. Smith, 200 Miss. 551, 27 So.2d 889, and used almost the identical language here as used therein. But the instant case goes much farther and beyond the holding of this honorable court in Sanders et ux v. Smith, supra. The facts as presented in the instant case go much farther and beyond the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
It must be borne in mind that where a directed verdict is granted, the evidence must be taken more strongly in favor of the opposite party and everything must be considered as proved which the evidence establishes directly or by reasonable inference. Yates v. Houston and Murray, 141 Miss. 881, 106 So. 110; Lee County Gin Co. v. Middlebrooks, 161 Miss. 422, 137 So. 108; Keith v. Yazoo Miss. Valley R.R. Co., 168 Miss. 519, 151 So. 916; Gravette v. Golden Sawmill Trust Co., 170 Miss. 15, 154 So. 274; Montgomery Ward v. Skinner, 200 Miss. 44, 25 So.2d 572; Davidson v. McIntyre, 32 So.2d 150.
We respectfully submit that the instant case provides that peculiar case referred to Mr. Justice Smith in the Sanders et ux v. Smith, supra, where appellees are called upon to explain the matter, by evidence of exculpation, if they can. We respectfully submit that this is a case where the jury should have permitted to pass upon the facts of the case. Peculiarly so when it must be taken as undisputed that prior to her operation the appellant had no difficulty or trouble with her feet and that they were normal. Peculiarly so when it is equally as true and uncontradicted that immediately upon her emergence from the operating room appellant's feet were injured and hurt her. Peculiarly so when it is equally as true and uncontradicted that the operations performed by the surgeons could not have caused the injury to appellant's feet.
Therefore, a jury would be warranted in inferring and believing that the injuries to appellant's feet took place in the operating room and while they were unduly fastened and strapped. How else? A complete demonstration of the methods of strapping the appellant's feet and ankles was presented to the jury, and it was for them to say whether the appellees exercised that degree of care comportable with appellant's position which freed appellees from liability. Much has been said of the injuries possibly being caused by a hot water bottle. It must be taken as true and uncontradicted that the hot water bottle was not "hot enough to burn anything". But, there is a greater and more cogent answer to this argument. The hot water bottle was not applied to appellant's feet until after they began to hurt and pain her and were icy cold.
In the Sanders et ux v. Smith, et al, 200 Miss. 551, 27 So.2d 889, relied upon so strongly by the appellees in the presentation below and to which the lower court attached such signficance, the death of the infant child was due to unknown facts. She was given an anesthetic, her tonsils were removed, and she died. That was all that was proved or could be proved.
How much stronger are the facts in the instant case? The gravamen of appellant's complaint is that her feet were permanently injured. They were normal when she went into the operating room. The operation could not have caused the injuries thereto. Appellant's feet were strapped for forty or forty-five minutes and immediately upon being unstrapped were injured. An almost unbroken line and chain of circumstances produced the unhappy results. The two cases cited by Mr. Justice Smith in Sanders, et ux, v. Smith, 200 Miss. 551, 27 So.2d 990, are more nearly in point with the facts of the instant case than with facts of the Sanders case, Saucier v. Ross, 112 Miss. 306, 73 So. 49; Pruitt v. Philpot et al, 142 Miss. 704, 107 So. 880.
It is singular that the contentions in the briefs of appellee counsel in the Saucier v. Ross, 112 Miss. 306, 73 So. 49, case were also identical with the contention made by appellees in the court below. The appellees, in the Saucier v. Ross case, supra contended that it was not known who left the gauze and tube in the plaintiff's side and caused her wounds. As it was put in the briefs, "there were too many fingers in the pie". Consequently a question arose as whose gauze it was, who left the tube in her side. The Supreme Court in that case reversed and remanded the cause and said that the plaintiff's testimony alone was sufficient to present the case to the jury, and the exclusion of plaintiff's testimony and the granting of the directed verdict was error.
The Pruitt v. Pillpot et al, supra, case was likewise peculiarly applicable, and in that case Mr. Justice Smith made this pertinent observation thereof: "The appellant was discharged from the hospital by Dr. Philpot about ten days after the operation, and a few days thereafter his wound became inflamed and pus began to form therein to such an extent as to necessitate his being again carried to the hospital, where he remained for some days, during which time Dr. Philpot reopened his wound and drained and treated it. Before the appellant returned to the hospital two bugs of the kind that were in the room while he was being operated on were gotten out of his wound by his mother, and the jury would have been warranted in believing from evidence that the bugs got into the wound while the operation was being performed, and caused it to become inflamed and the pus to accumulate therein . . . Some reasonable explanation for opening the windows must be given before the appellees can be held not to have been negligent in permitting the bugs to get into and remain in the appellant's wound."
The principles laid down in the case of Waddle v. Sutherland, 156 Miss. 450, 126 So. 201, are to a great extent similar to the principles of the case at bar. In the case referred to, the court applied the doctrine res ipsa loquitur. But the facts of the instant case go far beyond the application of that doctrine. In the Waddle case, supra, the appellant brought his action against the appellee for injuries received in the application of an x-ray machine while appellee was treating the appellant for eczema. The simple proof showed that the x-ray was applied and the appellant was so horribly burned as to necessitate the amputation of both legs.
However, the three cases in Mississippi more completely analagous to the case at bar are: Richardson v. Dumas, 106 Miss. 664, 64 So. 459; Meridian Sanatorium v. Scruggs, 121 Miss. 330, 83 So. 532; Maxie v. Laurel General Hospital, 130 Miss. 246, 93 So. 817.
We have read, examined and analyzed from courts of foreign jurisdiction literally a hundred or more cases involving the principles applicable in the case at bar. Practically all announce the same doctrine, but two stand out in such profound and sound logic and reasoning as to defy every conceivable supposition and attack upon them. They are: Malcomb v. Evangeline Lutheran Hospital of New York, etc., 185 N.W. 330; Danville Community Hospital v. Thompson, 186 Va. 746, 43 S.E.2d 882, 173 A.L.R. 525. See also Wetzel v. Omaha Maternity and General Hospital Ass'n., 96 Neb. 636, 148 N.W. 582, Ann. Cas. 1915B, 1224.
The syllabus of Danville Community Hospital v. Thompson, supra, is so concise, clear and pungent, and so illustrative of the instant case, we take the liberty of quotation thereof, as reported in 173 A.L.R. 525: "1. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is applicable where the evidence establishes that a newly born baby received a burn on its body between the time it was taken from the delivery room and the discovery of the burn the next morning in the nursery, and that during all of that period the baby was in the sole possession of the hospital's employees and the instruments used in its care were within its exclusive control, and the hospital offered no explanation of how the burn occurred." Is this not the case as presented here?
Brewer Brewer, for appellees.
Appellant claims that the facts in the case here are much stronger than those in Sanders v. Smith, 200 Miss. 551, 27 So.2d 889, where the death of an infant was due to unknown facts, but we say to the court that no one knows how the blisters came on Mrs. Palmer's feet. There is no record of any information; no history of operating table straps ever causing injury to a patient; and certainly such injury could not be within reasonable apprehension or contemplation of the hospital employee, although nurses know and are warned about the possibility of hot water bottle burns.
Appellant maintains throughout her brief that her feet were injured immediately after her removal from the operating table. This is stated in numerous places in appellant's brief. In the first place, the first complaint of any pain on the part of Mrs. Palmer came some two hours after the operation. The injury did not appear until more than sixteen hours after the operation. Appellant claims an unbroken chain of circumstances produced the results, but from the time Mrs. Palmer left the operating room she was completely in charge of and under the custody of her own nurses, hired and paid by her, and in no way connected with or under the supervision of the Clarksdale Hospital.
Appellant cites the cases of Saucier v. Ross, 112 Miss. 306, 73 So. 49, and Preweet v. Philpot, 142 Miss. 704, 107 So. 880. In both of these cases it was claimed it was unknown who caused the injury, by the tube and gauze in the Saucier case, and by the bugs in the Prewett case. In both these cases the patient was completely under the care of and in the custody of the hospital continuously from the time of entry until the time of discharge, which is definitely not the situation in the case at bar.
There is a most reasonable explaination for the injuries to Mrs. Palmer in the case at bar in that the hot water bottle was placed at her feet, by her own nurse, causing the burns or blisters. Certainly the court is familiar with the fact that a person lying on his back will sprawl his feet out and not keep them upright and flat against something, and this would be even more true in the case of Mrs. Palmer following an operation of the type she had undergone, and if her feet were, so to speak, sprawled out and laid on the sides next to the hot water bottle certainly a burn would occur on the outside of each heel; and we point out to the court again that medical history does not know of a case where operating straps such as used in this case ever caused any injury or trouble, especially blisters.
Appellant asked how else the injuries could have occurred than by the straps having been too tightly placed, but Dr. Sneed testified that the straps were not placed on too tightly and certainly Dr. Sneed is in the best position of anyone to know, and an uninformed jury of laymen certainly could not say that the straps were on too tightly when an admittedly qualified and expert doctor stated that the straps were not on Mrs. Palmer's feet too tightly, that straps had never before caused any injury of this type, and that completely standard and normal procedure was used in placing the straps.
The two cases cited by appellant on Page 19 of her brief are, Malcolm v. Evangelical Hospital, 185 N.W. 330, and Danville Community Hospital v. Thompson, 186 Va. 746, 43 S.E.2d 882, 173 A.L.R. 525, which are further cases wherein the patient in the hospital was completely and at all times under the care of the hospital involved and its employees. In the Malcolm case it was shown that nothing else could have caused the paralysis of the patient's arm, and it was shown to be a fact that a needle could injure the nerves in the body. In the Danville Hospital case, the baby was burned by a hot water bottle at a time when the baby was completely under the control and custody of the hospital, defendant. Again we point out to this court that there are many, many cases of hot water bottle burns, but not one case is known or has been shown where operating table straps injured a patient while on the operating table.
On page 24 of appellant's brief it is shown that the child in the Danville Hospital case was under the sole care and custody of the defendant hospital's employees and that the welfare of the child was in their exclusive control. Certainly the record in the case at bar shows beyond contradiction that the appellant was in the care of her own privately employed nurses.
We would like to point out that no injury or pain appeared immediately after the operation in this case. There is no proof of any kind that the feet of the appellant were securely fastened and bound by the straps. On the other hand, the proof shows beyond contradiction that her feet were merely suspended in the straps, that they were put on in a normal manner, not too tightly, and that there was absolutely no necessity that they be released during the course of the operation, and that such release of the straps is not known in medical practice. Again we say that appellant's feet did not begin to hurt and pain her immediately after the operation.
Appellant claims that no other instrumentality or substance came in contact with her feet during the operation except the straps. Of course this is true, but it is also true that such straps were placed there in a normal fashion, and have never been known to cause any trouble, and the appellees could not have reasonably anticipated or apprehended that any trouble could come from them.
At the bottom of page 27 of appellant's brief she states that she can find no other agency except the straps which could have caused the injury. We submit that this is a mere conclusion, in that the record shows beyond a shred of doubt that the hot water bottle could more easily have caused the injury than the straps, and further that straps have never been known to cause any injury, much less blisters.
The straps used were those standard in hospitals all over the country. In the case at bar the straps were applied in the same way they always were, and they were not too tight. The feet were not suspended in the straps and not bound or secured. The straps were not loosened during the operation because that was unnecessary and is never done. There is no record in medical history of such straps ever having caused trouble. If the straps cut off circulation, as the appellant has claimed, the injury or gangrene would first appear in the toes, or the furthest extremity from the heart, not in the heel, and would not appear in the form of a blister. There was nothing wrong with appellant's feet four hours after the operation except they were cold, and any blisters did not appear until some sixteen hours after the operation and long after the hot water bottle had been placed at her feet. Appellant makes much of the point that she complained of pain in her feet sometime after the operation, but she was also complaining of pain in other parts of her body and extremities. And it is a known fact that hot water bottles oftentimes cause burns, and in turn burns cause blisters. The appellant's own doctors said they do not know what caused the blisters, and at most claim only that the straps might possibly have caused them. But this court cannot allow a jury verdict to stand on a mere possibility, and we respectfully submit that there was no evidence presented in the trial of this case upon which recovery for the appellant might be based.
Miss Louise Francis had been using operating table straps for over twenty-five years, using them in the same manner each time, and not once did she ever have any trouble. Nor is there any record of any such trouble from the straps, and appellant's own doctors testified that they had never heard of the straps causing any trouble. Certainly there could be no reasonable anticipation or apprehension on her part or on the part of the Clarksdale Hospital that any injury would result from actions carried on for over twenty-five years in the same manner with satisfactory results.
Along this line, we quote from the case of I.C. Railroad Company v. Bloodworth, 166 Miss. 602, 145 So. 333, at page 617: "Precaution is a duty only so far as there is reason for apprehension. Ordinary care of a reasonably prudent man does not demand that a person should prevision or anticipate an unusual, improbable, or extraordinary occurrence, though such happening is within the range of possibilities. Care or foresight as to the probable effect of an act is not to be weighed on jewelers' scales, nor calculated by the expert mind of a philospher, from cause to effect, in all situations. Probability arises in the law of negligence when viewed from the standpoint of the judgment of a reasonably prudent man, as a reasonable thing to be expected. Remote possibilities do not constitute negligence from the judicial standpoint."
And we further quote from C. G. Railroad Co. v. Coleman, 172 Miss. 514, 160 So. 277, at page 521: "In order that a person, doing a particular act which results in injury to another, shall be liable therefor, the act must have been of such character and done in such situation that the person doing it should have reasonably anticipated that some injury to another will probably result therefrom. Actionable fault on the part of a defendant must be predicated on action or non-action, accompanied by knowledge, actual or implied, of the facts which make the result of his conduct not only a probable result, but a result of which he should, in view of these facts, have reasonably anticipated."
Appellant brought suit against Clarksdale Hospital, and its Superintendent, Miss Louise Francis, for the recovery of damages for injuries to her feet while a patient for hire in said hospital during the course of a major operation upon appellant. At the conclusion of the evidence for plaintiff the trial court, on motion of defendants, excluded all the evidence and peremptorily directed a verdict for defendants, which action is assigned as error.
The declaration charged that appellee, Miss Francis, as agent and employee of the hospital, was acting as attendant and circulating nurse in the operating room and that she negligently fastened the plaintiff's feet to the operating table, by the use of straps, in such manner that the blood circulation in plaintiff's feet was cut off, and that plaintiff was kept in such condition and situation without any loosening or releasing of said straps to restore blood circulation for such length of time that her feet were seriously and permanently injured.
The proof showed that the operation had no connection with or effect upon appellant's feet, and that she fully recovered therefrom in a short time and would have been able to resume her household duties and her usual routine but for the injuries to her feet which, at the time of the trial, had disabled her for a period of about sixteen months. These injuries consisted of two gangrenous sores, one on the outside of each foot below the ankle, which for a long period of time resisted the efforts of medical science toward effecting a cure. At the time of the trial one had about healed and the other had not, and, according to the medical testimony, the injuries are permanent.
It was shown that appellant's feet were entirely normal when she went into the operating room, that her feet were strapped for about forty-five minutes during the operation, that the straps were not loosened during that time, that appellant was removed to a private room in the hospital after the operation and when she came from under the influence of the anaesthetic about two hours later her feet were hurting. This was about 1 P.M. and about that time a special nurse came on duty, privately employed by appellant's husband. This nurse changed appellant's position in the bed. Appellant's feet continued to hurt, and about 3 P.M. this nurse placed a hot water bottle to the bottom of appellant's feet. The nurse testified that the water bottle was not hot enough to cause a burn. Appellant was conscious at the time and testified that she felt no discomfort from the heat of the water bottle. This was the only time that a water bottle was applied to her feet.
At about 2 or 3 o'clock, A.M. a bluish purple spot had appeared on the outside of each foot, where the gangrenous sores later developed. By 7 A.M. they were worse and by night there was fluid underneath the skin in each spot. The attending nurse testified that these places did not appear to be burns. They were very slow in responding to treatment.
Miss Francis was called as an adverse witness. She said that she had no independent recollection of being in the room during the operation but that the hospital chart shows that she was there and was acting as circulating nurse on this operation and that the chart is correct. The circulating nurse is the one who handles things that are not sterile, and has such duties as strapping a patient's feet to the table, and on this occasion it was her duty to strap appellant's feet. She admitted that she did not loosen these straps or relieve the pressure at any time during the forty-five minutes that they remained on appellant's feet. She admitted that gangrene may result if the circulation of blood is cut off for more than fifteen or twenty minutes, and further admitted that such result might follow from the use of these footstraps if they were tight enough to cut off the circulation, but maintained that she did not believe these straps could be made that tight.
Miss Francis produced the straps in question and demonstrated to the jury how they are fastened to the feet. For one of her subjects she used the physician who had treated appellant for these injuries. This physician testified before the jury, after Miss Francis had fastened the strap to one of his feet, and he demonstrated that the strap tightens from the weight of the foot and leg, and would continue to tighten from such weight.
In the oral argument before this Court, counsel for appellee produced one of these straps and demonstrated on his own foot how it is applied and then suspended with the weight of the foot and leg therein. This demonstration corroborates the physician's statement to the jury that continued weight would continue to tighten the straps. It is significant to note that these straps bind the feet at the very place where the gangrenous sores appeared on the appellant's feet.
Appellees argue throughout their brief, and apologize for their repeated statements, that the injuries here were caused by the negligence of appellant's privately employed nurse in placing too hot a water bottle to appellant's feet, but there is absolutely nothing in the record before us to justify such contention. The evidence shows conclusively that the water bottle was applied to the bottom of appellant's feet and not to the outside of each foot. It is inconceivable that a hot water bottle could have been placed in such a manner as to blister one place on the outside of each foot, both in identically the same location, without also blistering some other part of the feet. Furthermore, as already pointed out herein, the nurse testified that the water bottle was not hot enough to cause a burn, and appellant testified that it was not hot enough to cause her any discomfort. In fact she was complaining of pain in her feet before the water bottle was applied.
There was no defect in appellant's feet when she went into the operating room. She was there placed under an anaesthetic and rendered unconscious, so that she was unable to take care of herself or make complaint of anything that was done to her. The straps were placed upon her feet and were kept there, suspending the weight of her feet and legs, without release or loosening to restore circulation, for about forty-five minutes. Nothing touched appellant's feet that could have caused this injury except these straps. The demonstration made before the jury, coupled with the testimony of appellant's physician, was such that the jury could have found, as reasonable men, that the straps continued to tighten upon appellant's feet to the extent of obstructing the circulation of blood therein, and that reasonable care on the part of appellees required a temporary loosening of these straps, and that a failure therein proximately caused the injuries to appellant. In fact, the evidence excluded every causal connection except the straps, and we are of the opinion that the lower court erred in excluding the evidence and refusing to submit the case to the jury for decision.
A well reasoned case which we think is quite applicable to the facts here presented is Ybarra v. Spangard, 25 Cal.2d 486, 154 P.2d 687, 689, 162 A.L.R. 1258. The plaintiff in that case underwent an operation for appendicitis; prior to the operation he had never had any pain in or injury to his right arm and shoulder. When placed on the operating table he was pulled to the head of the table upon two hard objects which made contact with the top of his shoulders about an inch below his neck. When he awakened from the anaesthetic, after the operation, he felt a sharp pain about halfway between the neck and right shoulder. The pain grew more intense and spread down to the lower part of his arm and continuously became worse, resulting eventually in a permanent impairment. Upon these facts the trial court directed a verdict against the plaintiff. Upon appeal the California Supreme Court, in reversing the action of the trial court said:
(Hn 1) "The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has three conditions: `(1) the accident must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the absence of someone's negligence; (2) it must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) it must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on the part of the plaintiff.' Prosser, Torts, p. 295. It is applied in a wide variety of situations, including cases of medical or dental treatment and hospital care. Ales v. Ryan, 8 Cal.2d 82, 64 P.2d 409; Brown v. Shortlidge, 98 Cal.App. 352, 277 P. 134; Moore v. Steen, 102 Cal.App. 723, 283 P. 833; Armstrong v. Wallace, 8 Cal.App.2d 429, 47 P.2d 740; Meyer v. McNutt Hospital, 173 Cal. 156, 159 P. 436; Vergeldt v. Hartzell, 8 Cir., 1 F.2d 633; Maki v. Murray Hospital, 91 Mont. 251, 7 P.2d 228; Whetstine v. Moravec, 228 Iowa 352, 291 N.W. 425; see Shain, Res Ipsa Loquitur, 17 So. Cal. L. Rev. 187, 196.
"There is however, some uncertainty as to the extent to which res ipsa loquitur may be invoked in cases of injury from medical treatment. This is in part due to the tendency, in some decisions, to lay undue emphasis on the limitations of the doctrine, and to give too little attention to its basic underlying purpose. The result has been that a simple, understandable rule of circumstantial evidence, with a sound background of common sense and human experience, has occasionally been transformed into a rigid legal formula, which arbitarily precludes its application in many cases where it is most important that it should be applied. If the doctrine is to continue to serve a useful purpose, we should not forget that `the particular force and justice of the rule, regarded as a presumption throwing upon the party charged the duty of producing evidence, consists in the circumstance that the chief evidence of the true cause, whether culpable or innocent, is practically accessible to him but inaccessible to the injured person.' 9 Wigmore, Evidence, 3d ed., § 2509, p. 382; see, aso, Whetstine v. Moravec, 228 Iowa 352, 291 N.W. 425, 432; Ross v. Double Shoals Cotton Mills 140 N.C. 115, 52 S.E. 121, 1 L.R.A., N.S., 298; Maki v. Murray Hospital, 91 Mont. 251, 7 P.2d 228, 231. In the last-named case, where an unconscious patient in a hospital received injuries from a fall, the court declared that without the doctrine the maxim that for every wrong there is a remedy would be rendered nugatory, `by denying one, patently entitled to damages, satisfaction merely because he is ignorant of facts peculiarly within the knowledge of the party who should, in all justice, pay them.'
"The present case is of a type which comes within the reason and spirit of the doctrine more fully perhaps than any other. The passenger sitting awake in a railroad car at the time of a collision, the pedestrian walking along the street and struck by a falling object or the debris of an explosion, are surely not more entitled to an explanation than the unconscious patient on the operating table. Viewed from this aspect, it is difficult to see how the doctrine can, with any justification, be so restricted in its statement as to become inapplicable to a patient who submits himself to the care and custody of doctors and nurses, is rendered unconscious, and receives some injury from instrumentalities used in his treatment. Without the aid of the doctrine a patient who received permanent injuries of a serious character, obviously the result of some one's negligence, would be entirely unable to recover unless the doctors and nurses in attendance voluntarily chose to disclose the identity of the negligent person and the facts establishing liability. See Maki v. Murray Hospital, 91 Mont. 251, 7 P.2d 228. If this were the state of the law of negligence, the courts, to avoid gross injustice, would be forced to invoke the principles of absolute liability, irrespective of negligence, in actions by persons suffering injuries during the course of treatment under anesthesia. But we think this juncture has not yet been reached, and that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is properly applicable to the case before us.
"The condition that the injury must not have been due to the plaintiff's voluntary action is of course fully satisfied under the evidence produced herein; and the same is true of the condition that the accident must be one which ordinarily does not occur unless someone was negligent. We have here no problem of negligence in treatment, but of distinct injury to a healthy part of the body not the subject of treatment, nor within the area covered by the operation. The decisions in this state make it clear that such circumstances raise the inference of negligence and call upon the defendant to explain the unusual result. See Ales v. Ryan, 8 Cal.2d 82, 64 P.2d 409; Brown v. Shortlidge, 98 Cal.App. 352, 277 P. 134."
In 38 Am.Jur. 989, Negligence, Sec. 295, it is said: "While the mere fact of an injury will not give rise to a presumption of negligence on the part of anyone under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, an expression which means, literally, the transaction speaks for itself, the facts or circumstances accompanying an injury may be such as to raise a presumption, or at least permit an inference, of negligence on the part of the defendant. The conclusion to be drawn from the cases as to what constitutes the rule of res ipsa loquitur is that proof that the thing which caused the injury to the plaintiff was under the control and management of the defendant, and that the occurrence was such as in the ordinary course of things would not happen if those who had its control or management used proper care, affords sufficient evidence, or, as sometimes stated by the courts, reasonable evidence, in the absence of explanation by the defendant, that the injury arose from or was caused by the defendant's want of care. Hence, the occurrence of an injury under the circumstances as set forth permits an inference, or in the terminology of some courts, raises a presumption, that the defendant is guilty of negligence. It has been said that the phrase `res ipsa loquitur' is a symbol for the rule that the fact of the occurrence of an injury, taken with the surrounding circumstances, may permit an inference of culpability on the part of the defendant, make out plaintiff's prima facie case, and present a question of fact for defendant to meet with an explanation. In the language of a leading case, `where the circumstances of the occurrence that has caused the injury are of a character to give ground for a reasonable inference that if due care had been employed by the party charged with care in the premises, the thing that happened amiss would not have happened,' negligence may fairly be inferred in the absence of any explanation."
(Hn 2) It will be noted from the above authorities that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur does not in any instance create a case of absolute liability, but simply raises a presumption or makes out a prima facie case of negligence to the extent that the defendant is called upon to meet it with an explanation. Aside from the stated doctrine, and without applying the familiar Latin phrase thereto, the same result is effected under the general rules applying to circumstantial evidence. In 38 Am. Jur. p. 1032, Negligence, Sec. 33, these rules are stated as follows:
"The law does not require every fact and circumstance which make up a case of negligence to be proved by direct and positive evidence or by the testimony of eyewitnesses. (Hn 3) Proof of the fact of negligence may rest entirely in circumstances; in other words, circumstantial evidence alone may authorize a finding of negligence. Hence, negligence may be inferred from all the facts and attendant circumstances in the case, and where the circumstances are such as to take the case out of the realm of conjecture and within the field of legitimate inference from established facts, a prima facie case is made. The causal connection between an agency and the injury complained of need not be shown by direct evidence."
(Hn 4) It has been repeatedly held in this state that the owner or proprietor of a private hospital, operated for profit, is liable in damages for the negligence of his employees. Richardson v. Dumas, 106 Miss. 664, 64 So. 459; Meridian Sanatorium v. Scruggs, 121 Miss. 330, 83 So. 532; Maxie v. Laurel General Hospital, 130 Miss. 246, 93 So. 817.
In Richardson v. Dumas, supra, without mentioning the phrase "Res Ipsa Loquitur," this Court said [ 106 Miss. 664, 64 So. 460]: "The court erred in not submitting this case to the jury. Matthew Richardson, the patient, was under the control and care of appellee and his employe, the nurse. Under the contract it was the duty of appellee to give the patient all the attention required. The facts presented by the evidence, the very nature of the occurrence, shows a prima facie case of negligence in failing to exercise due care in nursing and looking after the patient."
In the case of Maxie v. Laurel General Hospital, supra, a child eight years of age was removed to a private room in the hospital following an appendectomy performed upon her. While alone and unattended she fell from the bed to the floor; her temperature rapidly rose, and she died in a few hours. The plaintiffs in that case were unable to prove how or why the child fell from the bed, nor were they able to prove by direct evidence that there was any causal connection between the fall and the death of the child. The trial court directed a verdict for the defendant and that action was reversed by this Court. In so doing, the Court said: "In considering the propriety of a directed verdict the evidence in favor of the party against whom such a verdict is given must be treated as proving every material fact which it either proves directly or by reasonable inference. Viewing the evidence in this case, in that light, we find that this child was left in a ward in the appellee hospital alone and without an attendant or any means of calling assistance, and while so situated the child for some reason fell from its bed, and its temperature soon thereafter went rapidly up and in a few hours it died. No good purpose could be served by setting out the evidence in detail. It is sufficient to say the liability of appellee was a question for the jury."
It will again be noted that in the Maxie case the Court did not use the aforesaid Latin phrase, but the Court did hold that from the circumstances in evidence a reasonable inference of negligence could be drawn by the jury.
(Hn 5) The case presented by the record here rises above the domain of mere conjecture or possibility and presents facts and circumstances from which a jury might reasonably find that the appellees were guilty of negligence proximately contributing to appellant's injury. It matters not whether our decision be grounded upon the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur as interpreted by some of the courts and textbook writers, or whether it be that the case here presented is based upon circumstantial evidence from which a reasonable inference or presumption of negligence may be drawn, we are nevertheless of the opinion that appellant's case should have been submitted to a jury for decision, and that consequently the exclusion of appellant's evidence and the direction of a verdict against her was erroneous. The judgment of the lower court is accordingly reversed and the cause remanded.
Reversed and remanded.
The controlling point in this case is not the fact, or extent, of the injuries suffered by the appellant, nor the probability that they were caused by the straps, but is whether the injuries were suffered as the result of the appellees' negligence. It is not enough to determine the cause of an injury. The testimony for the plaintiff herself by the attending nurses and physicians shows that the straps used were of a type generally employed by hospitals and that no similar injury had ever been known to result from such use. There was no testimony that such an injury was probable. It is not enough that a certain injury be possible, for no liability may rest upon suspicion, conjecture or mere possibility. Missouri Pac. Transp. Co. v. Beard, 179 Miss. 764, 176 So. 156; Yazoo M.V.R. Co. v. Lamensdorf, 180 Miss. 426, 177 So. 50, 178 So. 80; Kramer Service, Inc., v. Wilkins, 184 Miss. 483, 186 So. 625; Southern Ry. Co. v. Buse, 187 Miss. 752, 193 So. 918; Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of United States v. Mitchell, 201 Miss. 696, 29 So.2d 88.
The injuries suffered by appellant are grievous but must be considered damnum absque injuria unless it can be shown that this injury was forseeable as a reasonable probability. A party is under no legal duty to guard against the improbable. There is nothing shown which would impose on the defendant an obligation to take precautions against that which it had no reason to foresee. Kramer Service, Inc., v. Wilkins, supra.
It may be that the burden of proof resting upon the plaintiff was insuperable, but our concern is not for the explanation but for the fact.
I do not find in this case an occasion to apply the doctrine res ipsa loquitur. This doctrine never supplies the cause of the injury but allows a deduction of negligence from an established cause. Sanders v. Smith, 200 Miss. 551, 27 So.2d 889.
I am authorized to state that the Chief Justice joins in this dissent.