February 18, 2021

On January 27, 2021, the Arkansas Court of Appeals Division III held: “The question of law presented is whether the Magranses can maintain their claim that ROR [Radiologists of Russellville, P.A.] is vicariously liable for the actions of Dr. Hale even though Hale was granted summary judgment. As to issues of law presented, our review is de novo, meaning the entire case is open for review … It is well-established Arkansas law that when an employee has been released or dismissed, and the employer has been sued solely on a theory of vicarious liability, any liability of the employer is likewise eliminated … The basis for vicarious liability is “the master is liable only for the act of his servant, and not for anything he himself did, therefore, when the servant is not liable, the master for whom he was acting at the time should not be liable.””

The Underlying Facts

On November 17, 2012, Ramon Magrans (Ramon) suffered a fall in his bathroom injuring his face, head, neck, and chest and unknowingly fractured vertebras in his spine. Ramon obtained a computed tomography (CT) angiogram of his spine at ROR, and the results were read by a physician employed at the facility named Jeffrey A. Hale, M.D. (Hale), on December 14, 2012. The CT scan allegedly showed multiple recent compression fractures of the spine, but no notation of the abnormalities was made in the report.

On January 21, 2013, Ramon went to the emergency department at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center. Upon admittance, Ramon was treated by Dr. Robertson. Dr. Robertson ordered an MRI of Ramon’s lumbar spine. The next morning, before the MRI results were received, the nursing staff noted Ramon could not move his lower extremities. Dr. Robertson was notified of the change in Ramon’s condition and, after evaluating him, called both Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock (Baptist Health) and UAMS to get him transferred to a higher level of care. Neither facility had a bed available. Ultimately, Baptist Health accepted Ramon and he was transferred to Little Rock on January 23, 2013. Ramon then underwent imaging of his entire spinal axis, which revealed compression fractures and retropulsion of bone causing compression of the spinal cord. On January 31, 2013, Ramon was transferred to UAMS; however, Ramon was permanently paraplegic.

On November 17, 2014, the Magranses filed an Arkansas medical malpractice action against ROR and others. Specifically, the complaint alleged ROR “failed to have proper procedures and protocols in place and failed, through its directors, and employee or agent physicians, to provide radiology care and treatment that met the applicable standard of care. Said Defendant failed to assure that abnormal radiology studies related to Ramon Magrans were reported properly and followed-up timely.”

On January 15, 2015, the Magranses amended their complaint and added Hale and others as defendants, alleging the CT angiogram showed multiple compression fractures of Ramon’s spine, and such findings should have been identified in the report with a suggestion that specific imaging be done to evaluate those fractures.

Dr. Hale moved for summary judgment arguing all claims against him were barred by the statute of limitations. Ramon did not oppose summary judgment in favor of Hale, and the circuit court granted his motion and dismissed him with prejudice. In response, ROR filed its motion for summary judgment alleging the Magranses were precluded from maintaining their vicarious-liability claim, citing Arkansas law that states when an employee has been released or dismissed and the employer has been sued solely on a theory of vicarious liability, any liability of the employer is likewise eliminated.

The circuit court orally granted summary judgment, ruling that (1) the vicarious liability claims against ROR must fail because Arkansas law is clear that a principal cannot be vicariously liable for the acts of its agent when the liability of the agent has been eliminated; (2) ROR’s alleged deviation from the standard of care was not supported by any expert testimony, and even if it had been, the Magranses could not prove causation as to this claim because they would be precluded from introducing evidence of Dr. Hale’s alleged improper interpretation of the CT angiogram; and (3) there was no merit to the claim of negligence on the part of ROR with respect to the preliminary interpretation of the CT angiogram provided by Dr. Paul Sarai because the only report at issue and included in the medical report was performed by Dr. Hale.

The plaintiffs appealed.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals held: “appellants made the decision to add Dr. Hale as a party after the statute of limitations had run and therefore have to deal with the consequences of doing so, regardless of how harsh of a result it yields. Where the agent has no liability, the principal cannot be liable. ROR, therefore, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment is affirmed.”

Source Magrans v. Andrada, M.D., 2021 Ark. App. 35.

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