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W2111 New York Medical Journal
Dec 26 1885
To: Dr. Calvin Brooks McQuesten

Reprinted form the New York Medical Journal for December 26, 1885

Brown vs. Purdy-The facts of this case are briefly as follows: In November, 1879, Dr. A.E.M. Purdy was called to see Miss Angelina Brown. On his arrival he diagnosticated small-pox. He saw her later in the day with Dr. A.S. Purdy, who likewise diagnosticated small-pox. Still later he saw her again with Sanitary Inspector Dr. C. E. Lockwood, whom he had notified of the case. Dr. Lockwood's diagnosis was small-pox. The patient went or was sent to the small-pox hospital. On her arrival, the house physician, Dr. Bowen, made a diagnosis of small-pox, and so reported to the Board of Health. He subsequently revised his diagnosis and certified that Miss Brown was only suffering from eczema and told her that she need not remain in the hospital. She voluntarily remained there, however, for some days.

After leaving the hospital she brought suit against the Dr. Purdy, claiming damages to the extent of $10,000. She attested that the diagnosis made by Dr. A. E. M. Purdy, Dr. A.S. Purdy and Dr. C.E. Lockwood was incorrect, that she had been damaged to the above named amount of being sent to the small-pox hospital, and that she was sent there through the agency of the Drs. Purdy.

On the trial of the cause, in November, 1885, in the Superior Court before Judge Ingraham, the [court ??] for the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, on the ground that the defendants had not sent the plaintiff to the small-box hospital, not that the sending of Miss. Brown to the hospital was the act of the Board of Health, for which the defendants were not responsible.

His honor denied the motion, and ordered that the trial proceed before the jury. The plaintiff on the stand gave a lengthy history of her experiences, and declared that she was not suffering from small-pox in November 1879, but form the effects of a local irritant that she had applied to the skin.

The defendants testified minutely as to the symptoms and eruptive appearances present at the time of their examination, and declared that they were unmistakably indicative of small-pox.

Dr. Lockwood testified to the same effect, that his opinion was formed independently of the Dr. Purdy and that Miss Brown was sent to the hospital in conformity with the rules and regulation of the Board of Health.

Dr. Austin Flint, Dr. E. I. Keyes, and George H. Fox testified that, form the recital of the symptoms and the character of the eruptions, as detailed by witnesses, Miss Brown was undoubtedly suffering from small-pox at the time referred to. Other physicians were in court prepared to testify to the same effect.

At the close of the testimony the counsel for the defense again moved that the case be dismissed on substantially the same grounds as before, to wit: that it was the Board of Health, and not the Drs. Purdy, that caused the transfer of the plaintiff to the hospital.

His honor again denied the motion, and in his charge to the jury said in effect that the defendants had set in motion the machinery that led to the plaintiff being sent to the hospital.

The jury brought in a verdict of $500 against the defendants. The features of the case that are important to the medical profession of the State do not hinge on the correctness or otherwise of the diagnosis.

The essential point is whether a physician who complies with the law requiring him to report cases of suspected small-pox thereby becomes liable for any damage arising or claimed to have arisen through the subsequent acts of the Board of Health.

The decision of Judge Ingraham is sending the case to the jury would imply that the physician may thus become liable.

This decision, in accordance with judicial custom, will be considered law until reversed by a higher court.

The case of Brown vs. Purdy having been brought to the notice of the Medical Society of the County of New York, that body referred the matter to its Comitia Minora, with power. The Comitia, believing that it would be expedient to appeal from Judge Ingraham's decision, that it would be expedient to appeal from Judge Ingraham's decision. Provided sufficient funds could be raised, appointed a special committee, consisting of members of the society, for the purpose of raising said funds.

This committee appointed a sub-committee to prepare a brief statement of the facts of the case, and the foregoing is their report. [Signed]


In the light of the facts, as above stated, the special committee earnestly urge the members of the Medical Society of the County of New York to contribute to the fund now being raised for the purpose of carrying the case to the higher courts. To this fund Dr. A.E. M. Purdy has subscribed one thousand dollars and Dr. C.R. Agnew five hundred dollars. Other subscriptions of one hundred dollars and under have been received. Additional funds are still needed, and may be sent by check or otherwise to the treasurer of the committee, Dr. A.B. Douglas, 123 East Thirty-Sixth Street. Any part of the fund not required will be returned, pro rata, when the suit is decided. By order of the Special Committee. [Signed]

Daniel Lewis, Chairman
F.R.S. Drake, Secretary.

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