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The Georgia Court of Appeals recently issued a summary judgment in favor of Emory Adventist Hospital, in a lawsuit alleging that one of the hospital’s emergency room physicians was medically negligent for failing to properly treat the plaintiff’s husband for a heart condition, leading to his death.

At issue was whether the defendant hospital was vicariously liable for the physician’s conduct when the physician was hired as an independent contractor and whether the physician’s actual employer could be named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In Georgia, hospitals must provide notice when independent contractors are rendering care in order to avoid liability for their medical negligence.

Employers are vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees conducted within the scope of their employment. Generally, this liability does not extend to independent contractors. However, under Georgia law hospitals that hire physicians to work as independent contractors must provide notice of this relationship to patients. Specifically, the law requires that the hospital provide notice through signage posted in a “public area.” If a hospital fails to provide adequate notice, they may be liable for the negligent conduct of their independent contractors through the theory of apparent agency.

In this case, the plaintiff was unable to establish that the defendant hospital failed to provide adequate notice.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant hospital was liable for the physician’s negligent conduct even though she was an independent contractor because the hospital’s notice regarding its independent contractor relationship with some of the physician’s rendering services there was not placed in a public area. According to the hospital’s construction supervisor, at the time that the plaintiff’s husband was being treated at the hospital, a sign stating that some or all of the medical professionals rendering services at the hospital were independent contractors who are liable for their own actions was posted in a hallway outside the trauma room of the emergency department. The plaintiff’s attorney provided an affidavit stating that he went to the hospital and observed that the sign was not posted in a public area. However, the trial court ruled that the attorney did not provide a sufficient explanation for why he reached this conclusion.

The plaintiff also failed to file a claim against the physician’s actual employer in a timely manner.

During the discovery, which is a pre-trial phase of a lawsuit where parties can request information that leads to evidence supporting their position, the physician furnished the name of his actual employer, Cobb Medical. Three years later, the plaintiff filed court documents requesting that Cobb Medical be named as a defendant in the lawsuit. In denying this request, the trial court held that the plaintiff failed to provide Cobb Medical notice of the medical negligence claims prior during the statute of limitations.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rules on both issues, thereby dismissing the case against Emory Adventist Hospital.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of medical negligence, it is important that you speak to an attorney immediately in order to determine who is liable for your injuries and to file a claim against those parties in a timely manner.

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