Tennessee Appeals Court Affirms Doctor Was Agent of Hospital

In negligence actions, many different defendants may be at issue in a case. There may be an individual who caused an injury, or a company that produced a product that led to an injury, or an owner of a property that had a dangerous condition leading to an injury. Circumstances may also arise in which one party is responsible for the actions of a defendant because that defendant was acting as an agent for the party at the time of the injury. In these cases, even though the party didn’t take the action that caused the injury, it can still be held responsible for the actions of its agents.

A recent Tennessee wrongful death case illustrates this point. In this case, D.H. sued Trinity Hospital after his wife died following colon surgery. After the surgery, D.H.’s wife developed several complications, including intestinal obstruction. She was kept at the hospital for evaluation, but her condition continued to deteriorate. Nurses noticed leakage from her insertion wound and reported it to the doctors. Dr. A, a radiologist, conducted a CT scan to rule out the possibility of a bowel perforation, but he did not notice any problems. D.H.’s wife continued to worsen, and she eventually went into septic shock and died.

During litigation, D.H. finally received a copy of the CT scan after three years of efforts to obtain it. It showed clear evidence of air in D.H.’s wife’s abdomen, which was indicative of bowel perforation. Because of the time that had passed, D.H. could not add Dr. A. to his lawsuit. Instead, he sought a ruling from the court that Dr. A. was an agent of Trinity and that Trinity should be held liable for any damages he caused in order to prevent them from reaping the benefit of their failure to produce the CT scan.

The trial court agreed and found that Dr. A. was an agent of Trinity. At trial, the jury awarded D.H. $750,000 in damages, finding that Trinity was liable for its own failures and for the failures of Dr. A. Trinity appealed, arguing that D.H. had not established that Dr. A. was actually an agent of the hospital.

On appeal, Trinity argued that D.H. had not met the Tennessee test for apparent agency, which requires a showing that (1) Trinity held itself out as a provider of medical services; (2) D.H. and his wife looked to the hospital rather than Dr. A. as the provider of those services; and (3) the patient accepted those services with the reasonable belief they were coming from the hospital. While Trinity conceded the first element of this test, it argued that D.H. had not shown evidence of the other two elements. In response, D.H. argued that Dr. A.’s radiology services were clearly provided as a part of the hospital’s services, and there was no opportunity to pick an independent radiologist. Furthermore, it was the policy of the hospital to provide radiology services by Dr. A. on a regular schedule and to incorporate those services within its hospital departments. Thus, D.H. and his wife looked to the hospital to complete a CT scan rather than Dr. A. independently.

D.H. also argued that he and his wife reasonably believed the services were coming from the hospital because they were presented as such. While Trinity tried to argue that it had provided D.H. and his wife with consent forms to sign that indicated that Dr. A. was an independent contractor, the court noted that D.H. and his wife were illiterate and incapable of receiving meaningful notice from these forms. Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that D.H. had satisfied all of the elements of the agency test, and it was not an error for the lower court to have determined that Dr. A. was an apparent agent of Trinity. It affirmed the lower court’s decision.

When you’re considering possible defendants in your lawsuit, do not neglect to consider employers or other institutions that may be connected to the harm you suffered through agency relationships. If you are considering bringing a claim based on the death of a loved one but are unsure of who the potential defendants may be, experienced Tennessee wrongful death attorney Eric Beasley can help you identify possible employers, hospitals, or other entities that may bear partial responsibility for the loss you suffered. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Supreme Court Clarifies Wrongful Death Statute, Tennessee personal Injury Blog, September 8, 2017.

Tennessee Court Holds Suicide Not An Intervening Cause in Wrongful Death Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 27, 2016.

Tennessee Supreme Court Reviews Wrongful Death Benefits Awarded to Severely Injured Carpenter’s Family, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, May 31, 2017.