Court Addresses Florida’s “Apparent Agency” Theory in Florida Lawsuit Against Hospital

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.

Here, the court found that an apparent agency relationship existed between the surgeon and the hospital. First, the hospital required the patient to sign a consent agreement that did not specifically note the surgeon’s employee status. Next, the plaintiff relied on the hospital to provide health care services, rather than the actual surgeon. Although the patient had the choice to wait for another on-call surgeon, he had little ability to negotiate, as his condition was dire. Ultimately, the court found that the patient’s lack of choice between surgeons created a genuine material fact issue.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Negligent Physician?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries because of a healthcare provider’s negligence, contact the attorneys at the Law Offices of Robert Dixon. The attorneys at our law firm have extensive experience handling Florida medical malpractice lawsuits. We understand that these cases require a thorough understanding of complex tort laws. We have successfully advocated on behalf of hundreds of Florida injury victims with our skills, resources, and knowledge. In addition to medical malpractice, we handle Florida car accidents, premises liability, and product liability cases. Contact our office at 877-499-4878 to discuss your rights and remedies.

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