January 12, 2021

The Appellate Court of Illinois Second District (“Illinois Appellate Court”), in its opinion filed on June 11, 2020, affirmed summary judgment granted to the defendant hospital in an Illinois medical malpractice case, holding “although Kishwaukee’s advertisements initially could have been seen to create a genuine question of material fact on the issue of whether Kishwaukee held Hobson out as an employee or agent, this question is resolved by the signed consent forms, which clearly and unambiguously informed plaintiff that the physicians at the hospital, which would include Hobson, were independent contractors. Again, we recognize that the existence of an independent-contractor disclaimer in a consent form is not always dispositive on the issue of “holding out,” but it remains an important consideration.”

The Illinois Appellate Court further stated, “[t]hat plaintiff might not have subjectively understood the consent forms does not create a genuine question of material fact, as we view the issue from the perspective of a reasonable person.”

Apparent Authority

Under the doctrine of apparent authority, a hospital can be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of a physician providing care at the hospital, regardless of whether the physician is an independent contractor, unless the patient knows, or should have known, that the physician is an independent contractor. A plaintiff must show that: (1) the hospital, or its agent, acted in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the individual who was alleged to be negligent was an employee or agent of the hospital; (2) where the acts of the agent create the appearance of authority, the plaintiff must also prove that the hospital had knowledge of and acquiesced in them; and (3) the plaintiff acted in reliance upon the conduct of the hospital or its agent, consistent with ordinary care and prudence.

In the case the Illinois Appellate Court was deciding, Dr. Paula Hobson (“Hobson”) oversaw the plaintiff’s labor and performed the delivery of her baby at Kishwaukee Community Hospital (“Kishwaukee”). During the delivery, the baby experienced shoulder dystocia that resulted in a brachial plexus injury, causing nerve damage that affected the use of her right arm. The plaintiff argued in her Illinois medical malpractice case that Hobson was acting as Kishwaukee’s apparent agent when she oversaw the plaintiff’s labor and delivery.

The plaintiff had signed two informed consent forms, namely a patient authorization record and a consent for obstetrical services. One subsection of the patient authorization record form stated, in part, “Physicians providing care are independent contractors and are not employees or agents of KCH/VWCH.” One paragraph of the consent form signed by the plaintiff stated, ““I understand that the physicians who participate in the procedure (for example: surgeon, assistants, anesthesiologist, obstetrician, pathologist, and the like) are independent practitioners and are not employees or agents of Kishwaukee Community Hospital.”

The Illinois Appellate Court held: “We reject plaintiff’s argument that the consent forms are meaningless because she signed them while she was in labor … as Kishwaukee points out, plaintiff was admitted around 6 p.m. and signed the forms at about 8 p.m., but Alexis was not born until 2:29 a.m. the following day, meaning that plaintiff was far from the final stage of labor when she signed the forms … We also do not agree with plaintiff that the consent forms were ambiguous and confusing. The patient authorization record was a single page; the statement that physicians were independent contractors and not employees or agents of Kishwaukee was in bold type; the form required plaintiff’s initials after the paragraph that contained this bolded sentence; and plaintiff additionally signed the bottom of the form … Plaintiff signed the signature line of the second page of the form, below the bolded statement that her signature constituted an acknowledgement that she had read, understood, and agreed to the foregoing items … the consent forms here clearly and concisely communicated that all of the physicians were independent contractors … we also disagree with plaintiff’s argument that the consent forms were insufficient because they did not identify Hobson or NIF by name.”

Source Prutton v. Baumgart, 2020 IL App (2d) 190346.

If you or your child may have been injured during pregnancy, labor, or delivery as a result of medical malpractice in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a birth injury lawyer in Illinois or in your U.S. state who may investigate your birth injury medical malpractice claim for you and represent you and/or your child in a birth injury medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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