Rush-Copley Medical Center Inc. failed to escape liability for a non-employed doctor’s alleged negligence because the degree of its control over her was a fact question.
The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Thursday denied the Aurora, Ill., facility’s motion for summary judgment in a medical malpractice action, saying that a reasonable jury could find that pediatrician Hinna Khan was acting as it apparent agent when she treated Nathaniel Pryor Jr.
The case involves a question that typically arises in health-care cases, where doctors often aren’t hospital employees, and facilities traditionally have no control over their medical judgment. Patients who aren’t aware of that fact may seek to hold a facility vicariously liable for their alleged negligence.
Nathaniel Pryor Sr. and Adriana Madrigal sued Rush and Kahn, alleging that the physician’s negligent care of their son after his birth caused brain damage that led to cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, and permanent disability.
Rush said it couldn’t be held liable because Kahn wasn’t its employee and wasn’t listed as such in an admission form signed by the baby’s mother.
In Illinois, however, a hospital can be held liable for the actions of a doctor who was its actual or apparent agent, the court said. A doctor’s independent contractor status may be negated if a hospital retains a right to control her, it said.
Apparent agency arises when the physician acts in a way that would lead a reasonable person to believe that she was the hospital’s employee, the hospital acquiesces in the conduct, and the plaintiff acts in reliance on that conduct, the court said. This is a highly fact-dependent question, it said.
The plaintiffs argued that Rush’s discharge policy prohibited Khan from signing off on a discharge unless she found that the patient had a stable temperature, an established feeding pattern, and stable heart-respiratory status. Khan didn’t satisfy that obligation before discharging Nathaniel Jr., they said.
Rush argued that the discharge policy applied only to nurses, but there was some evidence that doctors were expected to follow it, the court said. At this stage, then, there was an open question of fact over whether Rush retained the right to control Khan with respect to discharge decisions, Judge Franklin U. Valderrama said.
Beam Legal Team LLC represents the plaintiffs. Donohue Brown Mathewson & Smyth LLC represents Khan. Hall Prangle & Schoonveld LLC represents Rush.
The case is Pryor v. Rush-Copley Med. Ctr., Inc., N.D. Ill., No. 19-cv-8496, 5/11/23.
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