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New York Court Discusses a Hospital’s Vicarious Liability for a Doctor’s Medical Malpractice

Typically, when a patient seeks treatment in a hospital, the doctors and nurses that provide the patient with care will be employed by the hospital. Thus, if they perform their duties improperly, the hospital may be deemed vicariously liable for their acts. In some instances, however, medical staff members working in a hospital are independent contractors, not employees, and the question of whether a hospital can be held accountable for their incompetence becomes more complicated. The imposition of vicarious liability on a hospital for the acts of an independent contractor was the subject of a recent opinion issued by a New York court. If you were injured by an incompetent medical provider while you were in a hospital, it is advisable to consult a Rochester hospital malpractice attorney to assess your possible claims.

The Patient’s Care and Subsequent Claims

Allegedly, the plaintiff’s decedent sought admission to the defendant hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and treatment, as he was experiencing suicidal ideation. The defendant physician treated the plaintiff’s decedent throughout the course of his admission. Tragically, however, he died by suicide while he was still receiving inpatient care.

It is reported that the plaintiff, who was the wife of the decedent, filed medical malpractice claims against the defendants, alleging their failure to provide proper care led to the decedent’s untimely death. The defendant hospital filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that it could not be deemed vicariously liable for the acts of the defendant doctor because he was an independent contractor. The court denied the defendant hospital’s motion, and it appealed.

Vicarious Liability for Medical Malpractice

Generally, pursuant to the doctrine of respondeat superior, a hospital can be deemed vicariously liable for the malpractice or negligence of its employees who are acting within the scope of their employment. A hospital will generally not be held accountable for negligent treatment provided by an independent doctor, however, like when the physician is retained by the patient. Vicarious liability might be imposed on a hospital for the medical malpractice of an independent physician under a theory of ostensible or apparent agency. For such agency to be created, there must be actions or words from the hospital that are communicated to the patient, that create the appearance that the hospital has granted the doctor the authority to act on behalf of the hospital. The patient must rely on the appearance of authority from the hospital, not the doctor, and must accept the services of the doctor based on the perceived relationship between the doctor and the hospital and not because of the doctor’s independent skill.

Thus, to establish that vicarious liability should not be imposed, a hospital must establish that the doctor was an independent contractor and not an employee, and the exception should not apply. In the subject case, the court found that the defendant hospital had not adequately demonstrated that, as a matter of law, it could not be deemed vicariously liable for the defendant doctor’s acts, and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney in Rochester

In many instances where a patient is harmed by incompetent care in a hospital, multiple parties will be deemed liable. If you sustained damages due to hospital malpractice, the experienced Rochester attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers can help you pursue any damages you may be owed. You can reach us at 585-653-7343 or through the online form to set up a consultation.

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