Hospital Liability for Physician Errors: Ostensible Agency not Always a Question of Fact

After successfully defending a hospital against claims that the hospital should be responsible for the errors of a physician, including a difficult ostensible agency theory of liability, Porter Scott attorneys have prevailed, in a partially published opinion by California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, which upheld the decision of the trial court in granting the hospital’s motion for summary judgment.  Although there are many appellate decisions holding that ostensible agency claims are typically a question of fact, on appeal, the court held that under the particular circumstances of this case, there was no question of fact and judgment could be entered as a matter of law. The court held that the defendant physician was not the ostensible agent of the hospital because the evidence submitted by the hospital plainly negated any possibility of ostensible agency, including a document signed by the plaintiff indicating acknowledgement that the physicians on staff were not employees or agents of the hospital. The court also struck down plaintiff’s attempts to expand the duty of a hospital to communicate laboratory results directly to the patient and /or ensure that the physician had correctly done so, holding that to impose such a duty would cause the hospital to interfere with the physician-patient relationship. (Payton Walker, et al. vs Sonora Regional Medical Center, 202 Cal.App.4th 948 (2012).)