Articles & Updates

Corey v. Wilkes-Barre Hospital Company LLC: An Analysis on Pennsylvania Corporate Negligence Law

Mar 15, 2024 | Articles & Updates

The following offers an overview of Corey v. Wilkes-Barre Hosp., Co. LLC, 2023 PA Super 262, 307 A.3d 701 (2023). This opinion concerned an appeal on the judgment entered on March 24, 2021 in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. Id.

General Facts

This case concerns decedent, Joseph Corey. Decedent experienced chest pain and difficulty breathing on August 8, 2013 and was transported by ambulance to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital (WBGH) on August 9, 2013. Id. at 705. Decedent was later transferred to Milton Hershey Medical Center where he passed away. Id. Decedent’s wife, Lesley Corey, filed a complaint against WBGH alleging a wrongful death claim, a survival action, and corporate negligence claim. Id. WBGH joined PPS, the company which provides the staffing for WBGH’s emergency department. Id. at 706.

At trial, the court granted WBGH’s motion for a compulsory nonsuit on the corporate negligence claim against them. Id. As such, Plaintiff’s only remaining claims against WBGH were for vicarious liability. Id. WBGH’s claim against PPS seeking indemnification remained intact. Id. After deliberating for fourteen minutes, the jury returned a verdict determining that the nurses and PPS were not negligent. Id.

Appellant, Lesley Corey, asked this court to examine the issues of whether or not Plaintiff’s corporate negligence claim should have been submitted to the jury and whether WBGH’s vicarious liability for the doctors was significant enough to be submitted to the jury. Id. at 707. Lastly, appellant argued that there was evidence of juror misconduct that influenced the verdict. Id. Appellant’s arguments were all denied and the judgment was affirmed.

Corporate Negligence Issue

Corporate negligence “is a doctrine under which a hospital owes a direct duty to its patients to ensure their safety and well-being while in the hospital.” Id., citing Ruff v. York Hospital, 257 A.3d 43, 49 (Pa. Super. 2021). To meet a prima facie case of corporate negligence, Plaintiffs must show that the hospital acted in deviation from the standard of care, the hospital had actual or constructive notice of the defects or procedures which created the harm, and the conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm. Corey, 307 A.3d at 709. A hospital is said to have constructive knowledge when it should have known of the plaintiff’s condition, or when failure to receive actual notice was caused by the absence of supervision. Id. The court reasoned that corporate negligence claims contemplate a systemic negligence on the part of the hospital. Id. at 710, citing Edwards v. Brandywine Hosp., 438 Pa. Super. 673, 652 A.2d 1382, 1386-87 (1995).

Appellant failed to establish that WBGH as a whole had any actual or constructive notice that their doctors systemically fell below the standard of care. Corey, 307 A.3d at 712. The evidence provided by the Appellant only suggested that the nurse and doctor that individually treated decedent may have been negligent. Id. This was not enough to put WBGH on actual or constructive notice that the institution as a whole fell beyond the standard of care. Id. The court correctly entered a nonsuit on the corporate negligence claim because there was no systemic negligence on the part of WBGH. Id.

Vicarious Liability Issue

The second issue Appellant argued was that WBGH should have been listed on the verdict slip under vicarious liability theory. Id. at 713. However, this issue was denied because Appellant failed to object to placing Nurse Bond (as representative of WBGH) and PPS on the verdict slip. Id. This failure to object at the trial level waived Appellant’s capability of challenging the verdict slip. Id. at 714.

Jury Misconduct Issue

The last issue Appellant argued was that an evidentiary hearing was needed to evaluate whether the jury was influenced. Id. at 715. This claim was made because of the short deliberation time of fourteen minutes. Id. The court also denied this argument because Appellant failed to offer any good reason to look into the validity of the verdict besides the short jury deliberation period. Id. at 715-716.


Judge Olson’s concurring opinion on this issue is very informative for future analyses of corporate negligence claims. Judge Olson began her concurrence by explaining the theory behind corporate negligence. Corporate negligence is a doctrine under which the hospital is liable if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed the patient, which is to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being while at the hospital. Id. at 716. A hospital’s duties cover four main areas – a duty to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment, a duty to select and retain only competent physicians, a duty to oversee all persons who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care, and a duty to formulate, adopt and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for the patients. Id. at 717.

To win on a corporate negligence claim, a plaintiff needs to show more than one single act of malpractice by an agent of the hospital – the Plaintiff needs to show that the hospital is itself substandard. Id. The hospital’s actions should be compared to what a reasonable hospital would do under similar circumstances. Id. at 718.

Where corporation negligence claims are based on violations of the hospital, vicarious liability claims are imposed upon a hospital because one of their employees acted negligently. Id. at 726. Under vicarious liability, the hospital itself does not need to fall below the standard of care – but the hospital can be held liable based on a showing that a medical provider it employs acted below the standard of care. Id. In contrast, a claim of corporate negligence should be reserved for situations where there are numerous and repeated deviations from the standard of care such that the hospital’s duty to take corrective action as a corporation is triggered. Id.  Corporate negligence claims against hospitals should allege that there is a duty on the institution to correct systemic negligence. Id.

Judge Olson concluded by reiterating that there was no corporate negligence in this case. Id. at 727. This was indicated by the short time of treatment (one day), and the lack of evidence that WBGH overlooked departures from the standard of care over the past few weeks or months before this incident. Id.


Lastly, Judge Kunselman dissented from the majority. She believed that granting the compulsory nonsuit as to corporate negligence was in error and that the court should have submitted the claim to the jury. Id. at 728. In contrast to the majority, Judge Kunselman opined that “proving systemic negligence is one way of establishing notice to the hospital, but it is not required.” Id. at 736. She argued that where the hospital could have discovered that the patient was receiving deficient medical care through proper monitoring, the hospital could be charged with constructive notice for the purpose of making a prima facie case of corporate negligence. Id.


This case is very instructive on how to handle corporate negligence claims in the future. In sum, the biggest takeaway from this case was the distinction made between vicarious liability and corporate negligence liability. Under vicarious liability, liability can be imposed upon a hospital due to a single negligent act performed by one of its employees. The same cannot be said for corporate negligence claims. This case instructs that corporate negligence claims should be reserved for those situations where the hospital itself had actual or constructive notice on systemic negligence on the part of employees, such that it failed to meet the standard of care as an institution. When such pervasive negligence occurs due to employee actions or hospital practices, a hospital has a duty to take action and act as a reasonable hospital would in similar circumstances. A corporate negligence claim arises when a hospital fails to do so.