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Logan v. Providence Hospital

August 02, 2001


Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Schwelb and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Rufus King III, Trial Judge)

Argued October 5, 1999

This appeal raises the knotty problem whether a non-settling defendant has a right to a credit for a plaintiff's settlement with another defendant, complicated by a choice of law question. Appellant challenges an order of the Superior Court applying District of Columbia law and granting pro tanto reduction of a jury award in her malpractice case against Providence Hospital in the amount of a settlement in a related negligence case in Maryland against other defendants.

Appellant claims that the trial court incorrectly applied District of Columbia law in deciding whether to apply the Maryland settlement amount as a credit, and that under Maryland law appellee is not entitled to a credit for the settlement because appellee is not a joint tortfeasor with the Maryland defendants. Appellee argues, on the other hand, that the trial court correctly applied District of Columbia law, as the District has a greater interest than Maryland in the negligence action, and under District of Columbia law appellee is entitled to a pro tanto reduction in the amount of the settlement. We agree with appellant that Maryland law applies to the question whether the settlement of the Maryland action should be applied as a pro tanto credit against the jury verdict in the District of Columbia action. Under Maryland law, appellee is not entitled to such credit because there has been no determination that appellee and the Maryland defendants were joint tortfeasors. Therefore, we reverse and remand.


On July 19, 1992, Daxi Love was visiting a relative at the Days Inn Hotel at 2700 New York Avenue, Northeast. While swimming in the hotel pool, he experienced distress in the water, dropped below the surface, and swallowed some chlorinated water. Although there was a lifeguard on duty at the time of the incident, he did not respond until after Love had been pulled from the water by other patrons of the pool. While being administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, Love aspirated vomit into his lungs. However, he regained consciousness, was coherent, and was able to walk before being taken to Providence Hospital.

Love was treated at Providence Hospital for three and a half weeks. He was placed on a respirator under the care of Dr. Boisey O. Barnes. At the onset of his hospitalization, he was alert, responded to questions, was able to move his arms and legs, and wrote notes to communicate with those around him. During his treatment, Love developed pneumothorax, a condition in which the lungs develop tears in their walls. Evidence at trial showed that this life-threatening condition was caused by the hospital staff's sustained incorrect use of the respirator. Daxi Love died on August 13, 1992.

In March 1994, appellant, as personal representative of Love's estate and on her own behalf, brought a survival action and wrongful death action in Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, against Days Inn of America, Inc., 2700 New York Avenue Corporation, Winberg Management Company, and the Winberg Family Partnership (Maryland defendants). The following year, the case settled for a lump sum payment of $217,810 plus an annuity payable to Logan at $908/month for life with twenty years minimum.

In May 1994, two months after instituting suit against the Maryland defendants, appellant, as personal representative of her son's estate and on her own behalf, also brought survivor's and wrongful death *fn1 claims against Providence Hospital and Boisey O. Barnes, M.D. (District defendants), in Superior Court of the District of Columbia. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Logan and against Providence Hospital for $476,000. *fn2 Judgment was entered for Logan and against the hospital.

Providence Hospital then filed a Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, or, in the Alternative, for Relief from the Judgment, requesting that the court award a pro tanto credit as an offset to reflect the earlier settlement with the Maryland defendants. The trial court granted the Hospital's motion, reducing the final award to $116,000. *fn3 In its order, the trial court recognized that choice of law was central to its analysis. Applying the four-factor test of District of Columbia v. Coleman, 667 A. 2d 811 (D.C. 1995), the trial court determined that District of Columbia law should apply because the defendants' negligence, the plaintiff's residence, her son's injury, and the defendants' primary business all were centered in the District. Finding that "the injuries alleged by plaintiff in [the Maryland and D.C. cases] are factually and legally indistinguishable as against each defendant," the trial court applied the "single satisfaction rule" to reduce the jury verdict in favor of appellant in the amount of her settlement with the Maryland defendants. See Berg v. Footer, 673 A.2d 1244, 1249 (D.C. 1996) (quoting Snowden v. District of Columbia Transit Sys. Inc., 147 U.S. App. 204, 205, 454 F.2d 1047, 1048 (1971).


Because they raise issues of law, we review de novo the trial court's decisions to apply District of Columbia law and its order granting a pro tanto credit. See Berg, 673 A.2d at 1247 (crediting judgments with proceeds of a ...

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