In its November 9, 2017 decision, the Supreme Court, State of Wyoming (“Wyoming Supreme Court”) reversed the trial court’s finding that the defendant county hospital waived its immunity by purchasing liability insurance and on that basis denied the defendant hospital’s summary judgment motion. The Wyoming medical malpractice plaintiff had filed a medical malpractice complaint against the defendant hospital, alleging that the defendant hospital was vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of a physician who worked at the hospital as an independent contractor.
The Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (“WGCA”)
The Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (“WGCA”) provides: “A governmental entity and its public employees while acting within the scope of duties are granted immunity from liability for any tort except as provided by W.S. 1-39-105 through 1-39-112.”
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-118(b) provides, in relevant part: “(b) A governmental entity is authorized to purchase liability insurance coverage covering any acts or risks including all or any portion of the risks provided under this act. Purchase of liability insurance coverage shall extend the governmental entity’s liability as follows: (i) If a governmental entity has insurance coverage either exceeding the limits of liability as stated in this section or covering liability which is not authorized by this act, the governmental entity’s liability is extended to the coverage[.]” (emphasis added)
The defendant county-owned hospital had purchased medical malpractice liability insurance. The medical malpractice liability policy provided coverage, in part: “for ‘any claim or claims * * * arising out of the performance of medical professional services rendered or which should have been rendered * * * by the insured or by any person for whose acts or omissions the insured is legally responsible.'”
The Wyoming medical malpractice plaintiff contended that “any person for whose acts or omissions the insured is legally responsible” extends the defendant hospital’s liability to the acts or omissions of any person for which any other hospital would be legally responsible, such as an apparent agent. The defendant hospital contended that the term “legally responsible” is not an extension of the defendant hospital’s liability at all and is a reference solely to the defendant hospital’s liability under the WGCA.
The Wyoming Supreme Court held: “the UMIA Policy covers claims against the Hospital for its acts or omissions, as the insured, and for the acts or omissions of any person for whose acts or omissions the Hospital is legally liable. Because the Hospital is a governmental entity, and its legal liability is defined and limited by the WGCA, we must conclude the use of the phrase ‘any person for whose acts or omissions’ the Hospital ‘is legally responsible’ in the UMIA Policy does no more than provide coverage for the Hospital’s liability under the WGCA. The coverage is not an expansion of the Hospital’s liability.”
“In reaching this conclusion, we must again emphasize that a government entity’s purchase of liability insurance is not an absolute or complete waiver of immunity. The purchase of insurance extends liability only to the extent of the insurance coverage. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-118(b)(i) (LexisNexis 2017). With enactment of the WGCA, the Wyoming legislature clearly defined a governmental entity’s legal liability, and if a governmental entity’s insurance does no more than cover claims for which the entity is ‘legally liable,’ or ‘legally responsible,’ we are unwilling to read additional terms into that coverage to expand the entity’s liability. The UMIA Policy could easily have used the terms ‘apparent agent’ or ‘independent contractor,’ or both, in defining the Hospital’s coverage. Instead, it provided coverage for ‘any person for whose acts or omissions’ the Hospital ‘is legally responsible.’ Such language does not extend the Hospital’s liability and instead does no more than cover the Hospital’s existing liability under the WGCA.”
Source Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County v. Menapase, 2017 WY 131.
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