Historically, hospitals maintained various theories and defenses to escape liability for acts of negligence occurring at their facilities. Florida medical malpractice injury victims can currently hold hospitals vicariously liable for their employees’ or agents’ acts. Under the actual agency theory, a hospital may be liable for the acts of its employees. A hospital may also be liable under apparent agency theory for other workers’ actions at their facilities who are independent contractors instead of traditional employees.
Recently, a Florida appeals court issued an opinion finding a hospital liable for a physician’s negligence at their facility, working as an independent contractor. In that case, an emergency room doctor admitted the patient for appendicitis and periappendiceal abscess. The patient felt weary of the on-call surgeon designated to perform the surgery; however, another doctor would not be available until the next morning. As a result, the patient proceeded with the surgery with the on-call surgeon. After the surgery, the patient asked for antibiotics, which the surgeon deemed unnecessary. However, the patient suffered an acute infection requiring extensive treatment. The patient filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital for the surgeon’s negligence. In response, the hospital contended that they were not liable for the surgeon’s negligence because he was an independent contractor. The trial court granted a final summary judgment order in favor of the hospital system, and the plaintiff appealed.
Under Florida law, hospital systems cannot evade responsibility for a physician’s negligence by merely alleging that they were an independent contractor. These entities may still be liable if the hospital cloaked the physician with the “apparent authority to act on its behalf.” To establish apparent agency, the plaintiff must prove that the hospital represented the physician as an employee, the plaintiff relied on the representation, and the plaintiff experienced a change in their position because of the reliance.