Hospital not liable for staff physician’s alleged malpractice under actual or ostensible agency theories
Posted September 2, 2022
Franklin v. Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital (Aug. 8, 2022, B311482) __ Cal.App.5th __, 2022 WL 3151202, ordered published August 22, 2022
Plaintiff Michael Franklin’s primary care physician referred him to Dr. John Park, a neurosurgeon, for herniated disc treatment. Franklin viewed webpages indicating that Dr. Park was associated with Cottage Hospital before seeing him for treatment. Dr. Park concluded that Franklin needed surgery and advised him to present at the Hospital’s emergency room when Dr. Park was on duty to ensure the cost would be covered by insurance. When Franklin went to the ER, Hospital staff provided him with an admissions form (which he signed) stating that Dr. Park was an independent contractor, not an employee. After the surgery, Franklin developed neurological issues and sued Dr. Park for medical malpractice. Plaintiff also sued the Hospital, alleging it was responsible for Dr. Park’s malpractice under actual and ostensible agency theories. Dr. Park settled and the trial court granted the Hospital’s motion for summary judgment. Franklin appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. First, the court held that, as a matter of law, Dr. Park was not the Hospital’s actual agent with respect to the surgery that allegedly injured Franklin because the Hospital had no ability to control how Dr. Park performed that surgery. The Hospital’s contracts with Dr. Park concerned other matters, such as requiring him to treat Medicare patients, participate in an on-call physician panel, and limit his vacations. Next, the court held that no evidence supported Franklin’s claim that Dr. Park was the Hospital’s ostensible agent. Franklin, not the Hospital, had selected Dr. Park for the surgery. Additionally, Franklin had signed a written admissions form explaining that Dr. Park was not the Hospital’s employee. In addition, online articles stating Dr. Park had joined the Hospital did not create a triable issue because they did not state that Dr. Park was the Hospital’s employee and “it is common knowledge that Hospital websites often list staff physicians.” Finally, Franklin’s admission that he never considered the legal relationship between the Hospital and Dr. Park (before suing) proved that he did not rely on any alleged representation that Dr. Park was the Hospital’s agent.