Ostensible agency theory fails where patient’s personal physician performs surgery at a hospital.
Elisa Magallanes de Valle selected Dr. Rebecca Brock as her treating physician. Dr. Brock treated her for about a year before performing her hysterectomy at Doctors Medical Center of Modesto (DMC). Magallanes sued Dr. Brock for medical negligence after sustaining rectal injuries during that surgery. She also sued DMC, alleging that Dr. Brock was its ostensible agent. DMC moved for summary judgment, presenting evidence that Magallanes selected her personal physician and signed DMC’s Conditions of Service form stating that physicians were not employees or agents of the hospital. Magallanes filed an opposing declaration stating that she did not understand the admissions form because it was written in English and she only understands Spanish, and argued there was a triable issue whether she received actual notice that Dr. Brock was an independent contractor and not DMC’s agent. The trial court granted DMC’s motion, ruling that Magallanes’s pre-existing relationship with Dr. Brock defeated the ostensible agency claim as a matter of law. Magallanes appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. The court explained that “this was not a situation where Magallanes ‘looked to the hospital’ for surgical care and relied on the hospital’s selection or assignment” of her surgeon. Rather, Magallanes had previously selected and maintained a relationship with Dr. Brock, and therefore “did not rely on the apparent agency relationship between DMC and Dr. Brock” when seeking and receiving surgical care. Under the circumstances, Magallanes reasonably should have known that Dr. Brock was not an agent of the hospital, and was instead utilizing the hospital’s surgical facility to care for her own patient. The trial court therefore correctly ruled that Magallanes’ ostensible agency theory failed as a matter of law.
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, who are partners at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.
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