In any Miami medical malpractice lawsuit, plaintiffs need to be mindful of who employs the health care professionals at-fault. That’s because the legal theory of vicarious liability — that one can be held responsible for the wrongful actions of another — will only apply in an employment situation in which there was an employer-employee relationship, as opposed to one in which the at-fault person was an independent contractor.
There may be one exception, though: Apparent agency.
Apparent agency, also sometimes referred to as apparent authority, occurs when a reasonable third-party believed or understood the agent (i.e., at-fault person) had the authority to act on behalf of that third-party.
The theory of apparent agency does not require that the agent actually be employed by that third party, only that it appeared so to a reasonable person.
Florida case law has provided guidance for establishing apparent agency. In the 1995 1st DCA case of Robbins v. Hess, the court held that apparent agency existed only when all of the three elements were present:
- Representation by the purported principle;
- Reliance on that representation by a third party;
- Change in position by the third party in reliance on that representation.
An example of how the theory of apparent agency may come into play in a medical malpractice case was seen in the recent Idaho Supreme Court case of Navo v. Bingham Memorial Hospital.
According to court records, decedent had suffered a broken ankle when he slipped while getting out of his truck. The following day, he needed to undergo surgery to install a metal rod.
Unfortunately, the site of that surgery became infected and decedent would need to undergo a second surgery. A few days before that surgery, he was provided with an admission form that indicated the anesthesia services provided at the facility were given by an independent contractor who would be separately billed. He signed that form.
The day before the surgery, he was given a anesthesia and procedure consent form. That document did not clearly state that anesthesia would be administered by an independent contractor who was not an employee of the hospital. That document was provided on hospital letterhead and logo.
Prior to surgery, anesthesia was admitted via spinal tap. Soon after, decedent’s oxygen levels dropped and his heart rate slowed. However, he was eventually stabilized enough that doctors continued with surgery. However, following the procedure, decedent could not be revived. He died several days later, having never regained consciousness.
Plaintiffs, representatives of decedent’s estate, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against not just the anesthesiologist, but also against the hospital. The hospital countered with a request for summary judgment, arguing it could not be vicariously liable for the alleged negligent actions of the anesthesiologist, an independent contractor.
District court granted summary judgment and plaintiff appealed. Plaintiff argued the hospital could be liable based on the theory of apparent agency.
The state supreme court noted the two elements under Idaho law needed to establish apparent agency against a health care facility with regard to independent contractors:
- Conduct by the (hospital) that would lead a reasonable person to believe another person acts on the (hospital’s) behalf (i.e., conduct by the hospital holding out a health care professional as an agent);
- Acceptance of agent’s services by one who reasonably believes it is rendered by the hospital.
The court noted there was sufficient evidence in this case — based on the consent form signed by decedent — that the theory of apparent agency could be established and accepted by jurors.
Based on this, the state high court reversed and remanded for trial.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Navo v. Bingham Memorial Hospital, April 26, 2016,Idaho Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Bove v. Naples HMA — Florida Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations, April 21, 2016, Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog