In this next resource segment we will be discussing how a hospital can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of a physician who is not a hospital employee but an independent contractor.  A recent Illinois decision held that a hospital was liable for the negligent acts of its physicians under the doctrine of apparent authority regardless of whether the physician was an  independent contractor.

          Generally people who seek medical treatment at a emergency room facility are unaware of the status of the various professionals working there.  It is the reputation of that hospital itself upon which the patient rely.  Unless the patient is in some manner put on notice as to the independent status of the professionals he may come in contact with, it is natural for one to assume that these people are employees of the hospital.  A patient who is unaware that the person should have the right to look to the hospital should have the right to look to the hospital in seeking compensation for any negligence by a physician in providing emergency care. 

                In the case of the Estate of Jack Gilbert v. Sycamore Municipal Hospital, 622 N.E.2d 788 (1993 Ill.) the decedent presented to a local hospital emergency room complaining of chest pain.  The emergency room physician examined the decedent and ran several tests which did not revel any sign of heart disease.  The physician prescribed pain medication and discharged the decedent.  The decedent passed away that night from a myocardial infraction.  The administrator of the decedent's estate brought this suit against the emergency room physician and the hospital.  The complaint alleges that the hospital, by its agents or employees, including the emergency room physician in question, were negligent in their care and treatment of the deceased.

                Many of the hospital's active staff physicians practiced through a professional association including the emergency room physician in question.  The hospital considered its active staff to be independent contractors.  The hospital did not pay them any salary.  The hospital did not pay any business expenses, or pay social security taxes, or provide insurance, vacation or sick leave.  The physician in question set his own fees, billed separately for services rendered, kept profits and bore the losses from his practice.  The hospital contends that it could not be vicariously liable for the emergency room physicians conduct as he was an independent contractor.

    The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled on this case, reversing the appeals court.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant doctor and hospital. 

                The court found that the hospital was liable for the negligent acts of its physicians under the doctrine of apparent authority regardless of whether the physician was an independent contractor.  A hospital will be bound by the actual authority it gives as well as the apparent authority which it appears to give.  Apparent authority in an agent is the authority which the hospital holds the independent contractor out as possessing.   Where the hospital creates the appearance of authority in its independent contractors, and the patient relies on that appearance, the hospital will not be allowed to deny that an agency exists to the detriment of a patient.

                In conclusion for a hospital to be liable under the doctrine of apparent authority, a patient must show that: (1) the hospital, or its agent, acted in a manner that lead a reasonable person to conclude that the individual who was alleged to be negligent was an employee or agent of the hospital: (2) where the acts of the agent create the appearance of authority, the patient must also prove that the hospital had knowledge of and acquiesced in them; and (3) the patient acted in reliance upon the apparent authority of the independent contractor.

    Hospitals Sued for Acts of Physicians Who Are Not Employed There

    by Attorney Frank E. Reardon

    March 1994

    Healthcare Law, Litigation & Public Policy   Medical Licensure & Discipline ♦ Employment Board of Registration

    The content of this page is copyrighted as it is original content produced by the lawyers at Reardon Law Office LLC (formerly Hassan & Reardon P.C.) in Boston.  Please contact us if you would like to use any of this material.