Whether a hospital may or may not be held liable for the negligence of a physician or staff member depends on a number of factors, including whether the doctors are employees of the hospital, or independent contractors. In a July 20, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a medical malpractice claim against a hospital for the alleged negligence of its doctors under an apparent agency theory.
The plaintiff in the case was badly injured in a car accident on the Capital Beltway. He was transported to the hospital in an ambulance, during which time the plaintiff testified that he was in and out of consciousness. It was undisputed that the doctor who treated the plaintiff at the hospital’s trauma center was an independent contractor. Ultimately, after multiple surgeries, the plaintiff’s legs were amputated above the knee, and his left arm was permanently damaged.
The plaintiff brought claims against the doctor and hospital, alleging that the doctor was negligent in providing medical and surgical care, and that the hospital was vicariously liable for the doctor’s alleged negligence under a theory of apparent agency. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict against the doctor, finding that he committed medical malpractice, and against the hospital, finding that the doctor was its apparent agent. The plaintiff was awarded economic and noneconomic damages of over 6 million dollars. The trial court, however, granted judgment notwithstanding the verdict in favor of the hospital as to the issue of apparent agency. The plaintiff then sought review from the appeals court.
In Maryland, the doctrine of apparent agency is an exception to the general principle that a person who engages an independent contractor is not vicariously liable for the contractor’s negligence. To establish apparent agency in the instant case, the plaintiff was required to show that: (1) the hospital created, or acquiesced in, the appearance that an agency relationship existed; (2) the plaintiff subjectively believed that an agency relationship existed between the hospital and the doctor, and relied on that belief in seeking the services of the doctor; and (3) the plaintiff’s personal belief and reliance were reasonable.
On appeal, the appeals court concluded that the evidence was insufficient for the jury to find that the plaintiff actually believed that the physicians attending to him were agents of the hospital. The court explained that there was no direct testimony from the plaintiff that he believed that his doctor, or more generally, the physicians or staff at the hospital were its employees or agents. The court expressly declined to infer this subjective belief from his testimony and medical evidence, particularly because he had the opportunity to testify to his personal belief. As a result, the appeals court held that the jury verdict against the hospital could not stand.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., our Maryland injury lawyers have the experience to navigate you through your legal options after an accident. We represent people who are seeking compensation for personal injuries following auto collisions, medical negligence, and many other types of accidents. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your injury with a qualified attorney by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.