In its decision dated September 28, 2020, the Court of Appeals of Indiana (“Indiana Appellate Court”) reversed summary judgment granted by the trial court to the defendant hospital involving a claim against an anesthesiologist who provided services at the hospital during which the plaintiff was injured, holding “we conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact whether the business card can be considered as meaningful written notice to Jernagan, acknowledged at the time of admission, that Dr. Miller was an independent contractor.”
The Underlying Facts
On March 8, 2011, Jernagan underwent spine surgery performed by Stephen M. Ritter, M.D. (Dr. Ritter), at the IU Health North campus. The anesthesiology during the surgery was scheduled to be done by Michael Miller, M.D. (Dr. Miller), who was a partner with Anesthesia Consultants of Indianapolis. Jernagan was considered a high-risk surgical patient because of several underlying health issues.
On the day of his surgery, Jernagan presented at guest services for registration. Mary Mosby (Mosby), IU Health’s guest relations representative, registered Jernagan and handed him Dr. Miller’s business card, which stated Dr. Miller’s name, employer, and contact information, and whom Mosby identified as the anesthesiologist assisting Dr. Ritter with the surgical procedure. Mosby did not advise Jernagan that Dr. Miller was an independent contractor and not an employee of IU Health. Prior to the surgery, Jernagan met briefly with Dr. Miller who explained the procedure. During the surgery, Jernagan experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure from excessive blood loss, causing a cardiac arrest.
The Indiana Appellate Court held: “we cannot conclude that a sole business card, handed without more to an undoubtedly already anxious surgical patient at check-in, conclusively affirms that Dr. Miller was not an employee of IU Health or that the practice group is his employer. The record reflects that Dr. Miller himself rejected the label of employee, and pointed out that he was a partner in the practice group. As such, the business card merely indicates an affinity relationship but does not more closely specify or define that relationship … Consistent with the nature of modern-day hospital facilities and the holding of Sword and its progeny, we conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact whether the business card can be considered as meaningful written notice to Jernagan, acknowledged at the time of admission, that Dr. Miller was an independent contractor.”
The Indiana Appellate Court further held: “vicarious liability claims do not fall within the purview of the medical review panel or the Medical Malpractice Act … as the medical review panel’s procedure is a legal construction solely used in medical malpractice claims, we conclude that Jernagan did not need to file a proposed Complaint with respect to Dr. Miller to the medical review panel prior to commencing a vicarious liability claim against IU Health. As there is a genuine issue of material fact whether IU Health can be held vicariously liable pursuant to the Sword doctrine, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to IU Health on this issue.”
Source Jernagan v. Indiana University Health a/k/a Indiana University Health ACO, Inc., Opinion 20A-PL-41.
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