In its decision filed on March 31, 2016, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Appellate Court”) reversed summary judgment entered in favor of the defendant hospital in an Indiana medical malpractice hospital vicarious liability case in which the plaintiff alleged that the hospital was vicariously liable for the alleged medical negligence of a hospitalist, who was an independent contractor working in the hospital and whose alleged medical malpractice injured the plaintiff.
The Underlying Facts
On Memorial Day weekend in 2009, the plaintiff began experiencing pain and swelling in his leg. He was seen in an immediate care center that sent him to the defendant hospital to have an ultrasound, where he was diagnosed with a large blood clot in his leg. The plaintiff was admitted to the defendant hospital for two days where his treating physician was the defendant hospitalist, who was an independent contractor physician at the hospital. The plaintiff continued to experience problems with the blood clot, and he received additional treatment at a different hospital. The plaintiff alleged in his Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit that he continues to have health issues as a result of the blood clot that was negligently treated by the defendant hospitalist.
It was undisputed that the defendant hospitalist was an independent contractor working in the defendant hospital during the plaintiff’s treatment, and that the defendant hospitalist was not an employee of the defendant hospital during that time. The defendant hospital moved for summary judgment, and in support of its motion, pointed to the patient registration form signed by the plaintiff that stated, in part, “I acknowledge that the health care professionals who attend to me, including but not limited to anesthesiologists, radiologists, pathologists, emergency room physicians, and provide and perform such medical and surgical care, tests, procedures, drugs and other services and supplies may be independent contractors and not employees or agents of Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services.” (emphasis added)
In opposition to the defendant hospital’s motion for summary judgment as to the vicarious liability claim, the plaintiff stated in his affidavit that he did not receive meaningful notice that the defendant hospitalist was an independent contractor and that he reasonably believed that the hospitalist was the hospital’s employee. Nonetheless, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital on both the direct negligence claim and the vicarious liability claim.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
The Appellate court stated that in the hospital setting, Indiana courts have long followed the general rule that hospitals could not be held liable for the negligent actions of independent contractor physicians. However, in the area of hospital liability, there has been an ongoing movement by courts to use apparent or ostensible agency as a means by which to hold hospitals vicariously liable for the negligence of some independent contractor physicians; if the patient has no special knowledge regarding the arrangement the hospital has made with its physicians, and if there is no reason that the patient should have known of these employment relationships, then reliance is presumed (a hospital will be deemed to have held itself out as the provider of care unless it gives notice to the patient that it is not the provider of care and that the care is provided by a physician who is an independent contractor and not subject to the control and supervision of the hospital).
The defendant hospital argued that it gave meaningful notice to the plaintiff that the hospitalist that treated him was an independent contractor and not an employee of the hospital, pointing to the patient registration form signed by the plaintiff. However, the Appellate Court noted that the defendant hospital’s notice merely provided that the physicians “may be independent contractors” and therefore held that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the notice to the plaintiff was meaningful and whether the hospital is vicariously liable, and the Appellate Court held that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to the hospital on the vicarious liability claim.
Source Ford v. Jawaid, M.D., et al., Opinion 22A04-1506-CT-575.
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