Pinning Physician Negligence on Hospitals in Florida Still as Unclear as Ever

Author: Derek M. Daniels

In the recent case of Newbold-Ferguson v. AMISUB, Inc. d/b/a North Ridge Medical Center, 2012 WL 555395 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012), the Fourth District Court of Appeals chimed in yet again on the issue of holding hospitals responsible for physician negligence under the guise of the doctrine of non-delegable duty. For some reason, the 4th DCA seems particularly interested in this issue, and their latest iteration of strained logic effectively does nothing more than stir already muddied water.

The patient went to the hospital for back surgery and died the next day from cardiac arrhythmia. Although not clear from the opinion, it appears the crux of the claim was the emergency room physician failing to timely respond to the code. As to the hospital, the plaintiff alleged directly liability for the ER physician’s negligence based on a “non-delegable duty to supervise…so that competent and careful medical personnel are provided….” On this claim, the trial court determined that the non-delegable duty as alleged did not exist and in allowing plaintiff to amend to allege a viable claim against the hospital instructed counsel that the issue was “the non-delegable duty to diligently determine that competent physicians are afforded house privileges or staff privileges.” In what sounds like a bizarre ruling, the trial court dismissed plaintiff’s next attempt at alleging a claim against the hospital but permitted the case to go to trial under the prior complaint with a ruling that all references to the emergency room physician be redacted. At trial, plaintiff was precluded from introducing evidence that the ER doctor deviated from the standard of care, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the hospital.
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2 responses

  1. Excellent article! In most states the rule of “ostensible agency” comes into play, leaving the hospital vicariously liable for the emergency physicians. In my experience, this usually comes only after the ER doctor’s primary insurance has been exhausted.

  2. Dr. Dobkin,

    Thanks for your comment. In FL, the courts use the the word “apparent” instead of “ostensible,” but it’s the same thing. The issue is typically a battleground especially in ER cases, so sometimes the hospital’s liable on that theory and sometimes not. In an effort to sidestep the inconsistent results in cases on that issue and also to simply tap into the deep pockets of hospitals, they’ve taken yet another contract law concept, non-delegable duty, and have been trying to apply it. It’s an even bigger square peg that they’re trying to fit into a round hole.

    Thanks again for your interest.

    Derek

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