Mantooth v. American Natl. Red Cross

Full title: MANTOOTH v. AMERICAN NATIONAL RED CROSS, ET AL

Court: Court of Appeals of Georgia

Date published: Feb 6, 2002

Facts

The incident giving rise to Mantooth’s underlying action took place on August 29, 1998, when she went to the CMC emergency room complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. After an initial examination by the attending emergency room physician, Mantooth was examined by Dr. David Kim, who was on-call for Mantooth’s private internist, Dr. Sam Howell. Mantooth was diagnosed with an exacerbation of emphysema. Given her current condition and medical history, Dr. Kim ordered that she receive two units of blood.

Fifteen minutes after the transfusion began, Mantooth complained of severe pain in the left side of her chest that radiated down her left shoulder and arm and into her back. Dr. Kim transferred Mantooth to the Intensive Care Unit, where she was treated for asthma, congestive heart failure, and chest pain. When her condition stabilized, Mantooth was transferred to Crawford Long Hospital, where she was discharged several days later. Mantooth was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer.

On October 28, 1998, the Red Cross notified CMC that it had supplied the hospital with blood that did not meet its standards. As a precaution, the Red Cross normally did not allow people who had lived in Central Africa for longer than twelve months to donate blood. The Red Cross became aware that the blood at issue had come from a donor who had lived for thirteen months in a region of Africa where a rare undetectable strain of HIV known as “Group O” had been found. The donor did not test positive for HIV in the five years between the time he lived in Africa and when he donated blood, nor was there any reason, other than his stay in Central Africa, to believe that he had been exposed to the virus. CMC determined that the blood had been given to Mantooth and notified her physician, Dr. Howell, on November 4, 1998.

On or about December 8, 1998, Dr. Howell informed Mantooth that the blood used in the August transfusion should not have been accepted by the Red Cross. He arranged for Mantooth to undergo an HIV test on December 9, and the results were negative. Mantooth had additional HIV tests in March and April 1999, and those results were negative as well. On December 24, 1998, the Red Cross sent Mantooth a letter in which it explained that the likelihood that the blood she received was tainted was “extremely remote.”

Mantooth was very upset about the possibility that she had been exposed to an undetectable strain of HIV and claimed that she lived in fear that she had the virus and would pass it to her family members. She did not seek medical treatment for her severe emotional distress, nor did she seek treatment for the physical damage allegedly caused by the transfusion. Mantooth conceded that she did not incur any medical expenses as a direct result of the transfusion.

Mantooth filed suit on August 27, 1999, alleging that Dr. Kim and Dr. Howell were negligent and that CMC was vicariously liable.  She also included claims of negligence and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Red Cross. The Red Cross was served with the complaint on September 3, 1999; however, due to a misunderstanding in the office of the General Counsel, the Risk Management Division of the organization did not receive the complaint until November 1. The Red Cross moved to open the default on November 18, 1999, and the trial court subsequently granted the motion.

CMC filed a motion for partial summary judgment on September 15, 2000, and the trial court granted it, concluding that the hospital could not be held vicariously liable for the doctors’ conduct, because they were independent contractors and not employees of CMC. The court also granted summary judgment to the Red Cross based on the conclusion that Mantooth failed to present any evidence that she was actually exposed to HIV, and thus there was no basis for her claims of negligence or infliction of emotional distress.

Issue

Decision

The Court ruled that the four conditions for opening default were met, including providing the sworn affidavit of Randy Jouben, offering to plead instanter, announcing readiness to proceed to trial, and setting up a meritorious defense through its answer. The Red Cross presented defenses including failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, assumption of the risk, and Mantooth’s consent to the blood transfusion.

The Estate contends that one paragraph of the affidavit contains inadmissible hearsay, but the court’s order does not specify the ground on which it relied in opening the default. The trial court did not manifestly abuse its discretion in opening the default, as evidenced by Jouben’s affidavit showing that the complaint was served on the Medical Director of the Regional Chapter of the Red Cross in Atlanta, that the Risk Management Division did not receive the complaint until November 1, 1999, and that there was a misunderstanding in the office of the General Counsel leading the Red Cross to believe that the complaint was being handled properly.

The Court also found no error in the court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Red Cross, as Mantooth failed to present evidence of any recoverable damages. Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from it are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.

The trial court ruled that Mantooth’s failure to demonstrate recoverable damages is fatal to her claims of negligence against the Red Cross. To maintain a cause of action for ordinary or professional negligence, a plaintiff must prove elements such as a legal duty to conform to a standard of conduct, breach of this duty, causal connection between the conduct and the resulting injury, and damage to the plaintiff. Mantooth could not recover without demonstrating damage proximately caused by the Red Cross’s breach.

In her complaint, Mantooth claimed that her damages attributable to the actions of the Red Cross were emotional distress caused by the fear of contracting HIV and the AIDS virus, pain and suffering, and medical expenses. However, the trial court applied the Russaw decision to the case sub judice, as the plaintiff feared contracting HIV after an allegedly negligent event. The Estate argued that Mantooth should not have been required to demonstrate actual exposure, but the court rejected this argument, as the Red Cross cannot be completely sure that the blood it supplies is free of undetectable diseases.

The trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Red Cross on Mantooth’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The four elements required to sustain a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress are (1) the conduct must be intentional or reckless; (2) it must be extreme and outrageous; (3) there must be a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress must be severe.

Lastly, the Estate argued that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment to CMC, as Mantooth asserted claims of professional negligence against Dr. Kim and Dr. Howell. CMC successfully moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of vicarious liability, and the trial court did not err.

The court ruled that Dr. Kim and Dr. Howell were not employees of CMC, but rather granted the active medical staff privileges. The Recruiting Agreement between CMC and Dr. Kim did not transform Dr. Kim into an employee but rather referred to a loan to finance his practice. The agreement explicitly stated that the doctor was an independent contractor and not under the control or direction of CMC. The Estate conceded that Dr. Howell was Mantooth’s “personal physician” and that she had no evidence that Dr. Kim or Dr. Howell was an employee of CMC. The court also found no evidence to hold CMC vicariously liable for the doctors’ conduct based on an apparent agency theory. The consent form signed by Mantooth explicitly stated that all physicians providing services to her at CMC were independent contractors and not employees or agents of the hospital.

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