When people receive medical treatment at a hospital they typically assume that the doctors are employees of that hospital. However, in many cases the doctor may be an independent contractor of the hospital and not a hospital employee.
Because of the confusion that exists around who treating physicians and staff are actually working for, medical malpractice cases often involve an issue of apparent authority. The general rule is that if a patient believes that his or her doctor is employed by the hospital where he or she received treatment and can prove that it was reasonable for them to think so, then the hospital is liable for any negligence by that physician.
A recent decision by the Illinois Appellate Court further clarifies the apparent authority rule. In Wallace v. Alexian Brothers Medical Center, No. 1-08-2852, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that a hospital was not liable for negligence by its independent contractor doctors because the plaintiff had signed several consent forms which clearly stated that the doctors treating her injured daughter were independent contractors and were not in fact hospital employees. By doing so they affirmed the partial summary judgment granted by the trial court in favor of the defendant.
In Wallace, the plaintiff brought the case on behalf of her deceased 14 year-old daughter who had received medical treatment after being struck by a car. The plaintiff mother had signed a “Consent for Treatment, Assignment and Release of Information for Payment”, which stated that some of the physicians providing services “are independent contractors
who will be providing their specialized services on my behalf. . . [the hospital] is not responsible for the services these physicians provide. These physician’s and their employee’s
services will be billed separately.”
The plaintiff mother had submitted an affidavit to the court stating that while her signature was on the consent forms, she did not sign the document knowing and understanding what the result might be. She stated that she didn’t know that the doctors were independent contractors because of her limited education and the fact that she was in a state of shock after her daughter was injured. However, according to the court these issues did not raise a genuine issue of material fact.
The Illinois Appellate Court held that the consent form was clear and did not provide any exceptions to the independent contractor status of the doctors at the hospital. The court cited Gilbert v. Sycamore Municipal Hospital, 156 Ill.2d 511 (1993), which set out that all that showing that the plaintiff knew or should have known of the doctor’s independent contractor status is all that is required to defeat a claim of apparent authority. According to the court this was accomplished “via the clear and concise language in the consent form.”
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Cook County medical malpractice cases for over 30 years, serving areas in and around the Chicago area including Skokie, Oak Lawn, Forest Park, and Downers Grove.