The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland (“Maryland Appellate Court”) held in its unpublished opinion dated July 20, 2021 that “there was insufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could make the requisite finding that Mr. Williams subjectively believed that Dr. Blundon or, more generally, the physicians attending to him were the Hospital’s agents.”
In a Maryland medical malpractice case, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the apparent principal created, or acquiesced in, the appearance that an agency relationship existed; (2) the plaintiff subjectively believed that an agency relationship existed between the apparent principal and apparent agent and relied on that belief in seeking the services of the apparent agent; and (3) the plaintiff’s personal belief and reliance are reasonable. The first and third elements are objective while the second is a subjective element.
Under the second element, a plaintiff must show that he or she subjectively believed that an employment or agency relationship existed between the apparent principal and the apparent agent and relied on that belief in seeking medical care from the apparent agent. Plaintiffs need not establish their belief as to the particular negligent physician and instead may show that they held a general belief that the physicians or staff at the hospital were agents. The subjective belief and reliance of a patient who died sometime after the negligent treatment, and thus is unable to provide testimony, may be established by inference from other evidence supporting the apparent agency claim.
The Maryland Appellate Court stated in the case it was deciding, “Mr. Williams is correct in asserting that Maryland courts do not require a plaintiff to show knowledge of the independent contractor relationship … Such a showing would defeat an apparent agency claim—the plaintiff would have no basis for believing that an agency relationship existed … Apparent authority results from certain acts or manifestations by the alleged principal to a third party leading the third party to believe that an agent had authority to act … We also agree that the apparent agency doctrine as applied in Maryland does not impose upon the patient a duty to inquire into the treating physician’s relationship with the hospital.”
“Mr. Williams alleges that the evidence presented supports a finding that he personally believed the physicians and staff attending to him, including Dr. Blundon, were agents or employees of the Hospital. Specifically, he references his testimony that he was aware he was at the Hospital and that he did not object to and was relying on the Hospital for care. He also argues that medical evidence, such as the trauma assessment report describing him as “oriented” to person, place, and time, allowed the jury to conclude that he was able to and did in fact form a belief that those attending to him were agents of the Hospital. We disagree and hold that the evidence was insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Mr. Williams actually entertained a belief that an agency or employee relationship existed. There was no direct testimony from Mr. Williams that he believed that Dr. Blundon or, more generally, the physicians or staff at the Hospital were its agents or employees. He did, however, testify that he did not know and was never introduced to Dr. Blundon prior to the operation.”
“In our view, his awareness of where he was being treated says nothing about his perception about who—an employee or independent contractor—was providing that treatment. And we do not believe that a reasonable jury could infer from testimony regarding his lack of objection and reliance on the Hospital for care that these actions were premised on a belief that the treating physicians and staff were agents or employees of the Hospital. Lastly, we note that, despite the conflicting medical reports and other evidence regarding Mr. Williams’s level of consciousness at the Hospital, we are required to view this evidence in his favor. But assuming that he was able to form a subjective belief does not reasonably support the conclusion that he did in fact hold such a belief … because Mr. Williams did not adduce adequate evidence from which a rational jury could find that he subjectively believed that an agency relationship existed, the jury verdict against the Hospital cannot stand.”
Source Williams v. Dimensions Health Corporation, No. 0036 September Term, 2020.
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