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Roessler v. Novak

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Roessler (Plaintiff) sued a radiologist for malpractice and also sued the Hospital for vicarious liability, although the radiologist was an independent contractor and not an employee of the hospital.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A hospital can be held vicariously liable for an independent contractor physician’s malpractice when the physician acts with the apparent authority of the hospital.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff was a patient in the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. He was eventually admitted and Dr. Richard Lichtenstein, the radiologist on duty, took diagnostic scans of his abdomen. Plaintiff had surgery while in the hospital, and following surgery developed severe complications that led to additional surgery and an extended recovery. Plaintiff sued Dr. Lichtenstein alleging malpractice in misinterpreting the scans and negligence in failing to make a proper diagnosis. Plaintiff also sued the Hospital as vicariously liable for Dr. Lichtenstein’s errors. The Hospital moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the radiologists were not employees of the Hospital, but were independent contractors. The court granted the motion and Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    If an independent contractor physician acts with the apparent authority of a hospital, can the hospital be held vicariously liable for the physician’s malpractice?

    Held.

    (Salcines, J.) Yes. A hospital can be held vicariously liable for an independent contractor physician’s malpractice when the physician acts with the apparent authority of the hospital. Apparent authority has three elements: 1) a representation by the purported principal; 2) a reliance on that representation by a third party; and 3) a change in position by the third party in reliance on the representation. Plaintiff reasonably relied upon the hospital to provide radiological services. The radiology department was located on the hospital’s grounds and the contracted radiology group was the exclusive provider of such services for the hospital, covering the hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Plaintiff was sent to the radiology department while a patient at the hospital. Plaintiff accepted the radiologist provided at the hospital and did not attempt to obtain outside services. Clearly, Plaintiff would see the radiology department as belonging to the hospital. On the facts presented, there was at least a material question of fact that should have been decided by a jury. Reversed and remanded.

    Concurrence.

    (Altenbernd, C.J.) Precedent requires me to concur in the result. However, I believe that the theory of apparent authority does not work well to create vicarious liability in a complex institution like a hospital where many interrelated independent contractors work next to each other on the same customers.

    Discussion.

    Some hospitals have their own staff physicians while others have contracted with physician groups that work to provide medical services as independent contractors with the expectation that the hospital will not be vicariously liable for their negligence. Certain circumstances will still allow for vicarious liability within these arrangements, especially in emergent care scenarios.



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