Hospital Can be Held Liable for Doctor's Care Despite Patient's Signed Consent Form

In a case I recently briefed and we ultimately won in the 4th District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, we were able to successfully reverse a trial court ruling that a hospital was not responsible as a matter of law for the acts of an emergency room physician.  In this case, Ms. Whitlow was in the emergency waiting room at a hospital.  She was suffering from a brain hemorrhage, in horrible pain and crying, when she was approached by a hospital patient registration officer.  She presented Ms. Whitlow with a conditions of admission form.  Although Ms. Whitlow was nauseous and unable to read the form, she signed it.  The form provided that the doctors were independent contractors, not employees or agents of the hospital.   To the surprise of many California consumers, this is a fairly standard form in hospitals across California. Although most people assume the doctors at hospitals work for the hospital, in fact, in most cases they are labeled as independent contractors. Patients that arrive at the emergency room are required to sign these forms so the hospital can avoid liability when the doctors that practice at the hospital wrongful conduct injures patients. 

After signing the form, an emergency room doctor saw Ms. Whitlow.  However, he did not diagnose or treat her brain hemorrhage.  He subsequently discharged her from the hospital. A short while later, she collapsed and ultimately died from the brain hemorrhage.  The trial court found that as a matter of law, the hospital was not responsible for the conduct of the emergency room physician in not diagnosing and treating her brain hemorrhage.   After I briefed the case and Michelle Jenni from our office argued it, the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed with us that the trial court was in error and reversed the trial court's decision.

The case can be found here.