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Hospital Denied Emergency Room Exception to Vicarious Liability Rule

Emergency Center

One of the crucial threshold questions in a New York hospital negligence claim is who is responsible for the patient’s injuries. The physician who allegedly committed the malpractice would almost certainly be a defendant, but the hospital where the physician works is not always a proper defendant. In a recent case, the court examined the emergency room exception to the rule of vicarious liability as it applied to the alleged negligence of a non-employee, private attending physician.

The plaintiff arrived by ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she was seen and evaluated by a doctor in the emergency department. Later, she was examined by the Center’s surgical consultant, a defendant to the lawsuit, who determined that she needed to undergo surgery. The plaintiff decided she wanted the surgery performed by another physician who worked at another hospital. The plaintiff was transferred after several hours to the other hospital, where she underwent numerous surgeries, which resulted in a large portion of her gastrointestinal tract being removed.

Generally, the doctrine of vicarious liability holds an employer responsible for the negligence of its employees. In the medical malpractice context, the hospital that retained the doctor on its staff can be held vicariously liable for the doctor’s medical negligence under an agency theory.

Under New York medical malpractice law, a hospital is not liable for the actions of a private attending physician who was not in the hospital’s employment. The exception to this rule is when a patient presents at an emergency room seeking treatment from anyone at the hospital rather than from a specific physician of the patient’s own choosing. Liability is imposed because, from the patient’s perspective, the hospital has apparent authority over the independent physician. In the medical malpractice framework, the patient must have a reasonable belief that the physician who is treating him or her is acting on the hospital’s behalf.

The court noted that Peconic Bay Medical Center presented evidence that the plaintiff’s doctor was not an employee of the hospital. Specifically, the physician testified that, at the time in contest, he was not a member of Peconic Surgical Group and that, to have admitting privileges at Peconic Bay Medical Center, he was required to be on call at certain times, pursuant to a rotating schedule. Crucially, however, the plaintiff presented to the hospital’s emergency department and did not request her treating physician. Therefore, since the hospital did not present any evidence to establish that it did not fall within the emergency room exception for vicarious liability, the plaintiff’s claim was allowed to proceed.

Hospitals and health care providers can be held accountable for negligent acts that result in injuries and illnesses. If you or someone close to you has suffered due to hospital negligence, you may wish to speak to an attorney who can help you navigate the medical malpractice claims process. You may be entitled to significant compensation for your suffering and monetary damages. To speak with a malpractice attorney in Rochester about your case, call DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers at 315-479-9000 or contact us online. We offer evening and weekend appointments as well as home and hospital visits.

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Photo Credit: paulbr75 [CC0 Creative Commons], via Pixabay

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