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Court of Common Pleas Permits Corporate Negligence Claim Against Professional Corporation

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In a recent decision, the Court of Common Pleas determined that claims for corporate negligence were sufficiently plead against a professional corporation.  In Astleford v. Delta Medix, P.C., et al.[1], the trial court held that plaintiff’s claims for corporate negligence against Delta Medix, P.C. and Delta Medix, P.C. t/a The Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care (“Delta Medix”) was sufficiently plead to survive the preliminary objection phase.  In the underlying case, the plaintiff filed suit against her treating physician as well as Delta Medix for radiating the wrong side of her neck/throat for treatment of squamous cell carcinoma.

In 2015, the plaintiff was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma the length of her right tonsil and into the soft palate and uvula.  The defendant doctor scheduled the plaintiff for thirty-five (35) radiation treatments on the right side of her neck.  After twenty-six (26) treatments, the defendant doctor notified the plaintiff that he had been radiating the wrong side of her neck.  He offered her an additional seventeen (17) treatments on the right side of her neck, which was beyond the safe recommended dosage of radiation. Plaintiff’s complaint asserted claims for vicarious liability and corporate negligence against Delta Medix; and negligence, informed consent and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the defendant doctor. 

After the complaint was filed, all defendants filed preliminary objections.  Notably, the defendants argued that plaintiff’s claim of corporate negligence against Delta Medix could not be maintained because it is not a hospital or a health maintenance organization (“HMO”).  Further, the defendants asserted that claims for corporate negligence have never been extended to the office of a physician or a private medical group.  The defendants relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Thompson v. Nason Hospital,[2] where a hospital’s liability in corporate negligence was established, as well as, the Superior Court’s decision in Shannon v. McNulty[3], where the court determined that “an HMO is similar to a hospital in that the central role played by an HMO in the total health care of its subscribers is similar to that of a hospital’s role in the total health care of its patients.”  The defendants argued that Delta Medix is a professional corporation providing specific cancer-related treatment services to its patients with a specialized focus regarding its scope and treatment, and therefore, cannot be classified as a comprehensive health care facility as referred to in Thompson

In reaching its decision, the Court of Common Pleas relied on the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Scampone v. Highland Care Center, et al.[4]  Scampone involved an action by a decedent’s estate against a nursing home and a corporation providing management services to the nursing home.  The Court of Common Pleas opined that a fair reading of Scampone undercut the defendants’ argument that a claim for corporate negligence against Delta Medix could not stand.  The Supreme Court in Scampone determined that “. . . a defendant is not categorically exempt from liability simply because appellate decisional law has not specifically addressed a theory of liability in a particular context.  Categorical exemptions from liability exist . . . only where the General Assembly has acted to create explicit policy-based immunities. . . ” Id. at 599.  Based on the Court of Common Pleas reading of the Supreme Court’s Scampone opinion, and in light of the fact that the defendants failed to point to any action of the General Assembly conferring the benefit of immunity on them, the Court of Common Pleas declined to extend immunity from corporate negligence claims. 

Ultimately, the Court of Common Pleas found that the plaintiff pled sufficient facts to state a claim for corporate negligence against Delta Medix.  Significantly, however, the Court noted that whether or not the claim survives is a question for another day.

[1] Astleford v. Delta medix, P.C., et al, 2016 Pa. Ct. Comm. Pl. (unpublished opinion)(June 8, 2016).

[2] Thompson v. Nason Hospital, 527 Pa. 330, 591 A.2d 703 (Pa. 1991). 

[3] Shannon v. McNulty, 718 A.2d 828 (Pa. Super. 1998).

[4] Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, et al., 57 A.3d 582 (Pa. 2012). 

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