It is not uncommon for an injured plaintiff to bring a medical malpractice claim against more than one defendant on differing theories of negligence. In a March 21, 2017 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a negligence and wrongful death action brought by the surviving plaintiffs against a doctor, the hospital that employed the doctor, and the member companies of the hospital. The circuit court subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of the member companies. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that its claims against the member companies should have been allowed to proceed under theories of general corporate negligence and apparent agency.
The decedent in the case had experienced severe chest pain and was examined by the defendant doctor at the hospital. On the next day, the doctor discharged the decedent with instructions to take medications as needed and follow up with a cardiology referral for further investigation of his condition. On the next morning, the decedent passed away. An autopsy revealed that he died from hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, with significant blockages in several arteries in his heart.
The plaintiffs first argued that the member companies were liable because they breached their duty to provide emergency room protocols for the evaluation and treatment of emergency room patients with cardiac or cardiac-like symptoms. However, the appeals court pointed out that such a legal duty would be upon the hospital to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being, rather than its parent corporations, i.e., the defendants. Furthermore, a parent corporation is generally not liable for the acts of its subsidiaries, absent the piercing of the corporate veil to prevent fraud or to enforce equity.