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New York Court Examines Vicarious Liability in Medical Malpractice Cases

Typically, doctors perform surgical procedures in hospitals or other medical facilities. If a patient subsequently suffers harm due to complications during the procedure, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice. Whether the facility where the procedure was performed bears responsibility as well depends on numerous factors, as discussed in a recent New York opinion issued in a medical malpractice case. If you were hurt by an improperly performed procedure and you have questions about your rights it is advisable to talk to a Syracuse medical malpractice lawyer.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the plaintiff underwent surgery performed by the defendant surgeon at the defendant medical facility. The plaintiff subsequently commenced a medical malpractice case against the defendants. The defendants filed respective motions for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the cause of action for medical malpractice asserted against each of them. The trial court denied both motions, and the defendants appealed.

Vicarious Liability in Medical Malpractice Cases

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court ruling. The court explained that in a medical malpractice case, the defendant initially bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a deviation from accepted medical practice or that any purported deviation did not proximately cause the plaintiff’s injuries. The court elaborated that conflicting medical expert opinions preclude the grant of summary judgment in medical malpractice actions.

In the subject case, the defendant medical facility sought summary judgment, arguing that it could not be held vicariously liable for the defendant surgeon’s actions, asserting he was an independent contractor, and emphasizing that none of its employees committed any independent acts of negligence.

The court acknowledged the general rule that a medical facility is not vicariously liable for the negligence of a private attending physician chosen by the patient as long as the facility’s employees merely carried out the physician’s orders. However, exceptions exist, including situations where the physician’s order significantly deviates from normal medical practice, where the facility’s employees commit independent acts of negligence, or where the facility is held liable for the negligence of a private, nonemployee physician based on ostensible or apparent agency.

Here, the court found that the defendant medical facility established its prima facie entitlement to judgment by demonstrating that the defendant surgeon was an independent contractor and that the defendant medical facility couldn’t be held vicariously liable. Yet, viewing the evidence favorably to the plaintiff, the court determined that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant medical facility’s personnel committed an independent act constituting a departure from accepted medical practice that proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

Regarding the defendant surgeon’s motion for summary judgment, the court stated that conflicting medical expert opinions precluded summary judgment, even though the defendant surgeon demonstrated the absence of a departure from accepted medical practice. Based on the foregoing, the court upheld the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Skilled Syracuse Medical Malpractice Attorney

While there are risks associated with most procedures, many complications that arise are caused by negligence. If you suffered losses after surgery, you should meet with an attorney to determine whether you may be able to pursue medical malpractice claims. The skilled Syracuse medical malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers have ample experience handling claims against healthcare providers and can aid you in seeking a just outcome. You can reach us at 833-200-2000 or through the form online to set up a meeting.

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