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Pa. SC: Doctor can be sued for emotional distress

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 30, 2012

SCRANTON, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a doctor can be sued for emotional distress despite a lack of physical negligence.

The court's Middle District, in a two-page opinion filed Dec. 22, affirmed a superior court's ruling.

The Court of Common Pleas of Chester County had dismissed a claim, filed by Jeanelle Toney, for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court said the trial court erred in dismissing the claim. The Supreme Court agreed.

On March 3, 2003, Toney -- who was at the time several months pregnant -- had a pelvic ultrasound exam done by Dr. Maheep Goyal.

Goyal told Toney the results of her exam were normal and did not reveal any fetal abnormalities in her unborn baby. The baby was normal and healthy, he said.

However, when Toney gave birth to her son on July 3, 2003, he had numerous physical deformities: he lacked arms below the elbows and legs below the knee joints, suffered from an accessory tongue, slowed growth of the jaw, ventral curvature of the penis and an umbilical hernia.

Toney, who was awake and conscious for the delivery, observed her son's abnormalities right away. Given her exam results and reassurances by Goyal, she was in shock.

After delivery, she suffered from grief, rage, nausea, hysteria, nervousness, sleeplessness, nightmares and anxiety, and continued to experience emotional and mental distress.

In June 2005, she filed a lawsuit, claiming negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, against Goyal and the Chester County Hospital, among others.

"In light of the pleadings, it cannot be rationally argued that the defendants did not owe a duty of care directly to Toney. It is also entirely foreseeable that under the circumstances as alleged, Toney would suffer traumatic emotional distress during the birth of her son," the superior court wrote.

"As such, we find the elements of negligence and foreseeability to have been adequately pled."

The Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling, did not provide a full opinion regarding its decision.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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