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Law School Case Brief

Boyd v. Albert Einstein Med. Ctr. - 377 Pa. Super. 609, 547 A.2d 1229 (1988)

Rule:

Two factors relevant to a finding of ostensible agency are: (1) whether the patient looks to the institution, rather than the individual physician for care, and (2) whether the health maintenance organization "holds out" the physician as its employee. One who represents that another is his servant or other agent and thereby causes a third person justifiably to rely upon the care or skill of such apparent agent is subject to liability to the third person for harm caused by the lack of care or skill of the one appearing to be a servant or other agent as if he were such. The mere fact that acts are done by one whom the injured party believes to be the defendant's servant is not sufficient to cause the apparent master to be liable; rather, the rule normally applies where the plaintiff has submitted himself to the care or protection of an apparent servant in response to an invitation from the defendant to enter into such relations with such servant.

Facts:

Health Maintenance Organization of Pennsylvania ("HMO") is a medical insurance provider that offered an alternative to the traditional Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan. Wayne Boyd, decedent's husband, became eligible for participation in a group plan provided by HMO through his employer. Upon electing to participate in this plan, Mr. Boyd and decedent were provided with a directory and benefits brochure which listed the participating physicians. Restricted to selecting a physician from this list, decedent chose Doctor David Rosenthal and Doctor Perry Dornstein as her primary care physicians. One afternoon, decedent continued to experience chest pain, vomiting and belching. Decedent related the persistence and worsening of these symptoms by telephone to Doctors Rosenthal and Dornstein, who prescribed, without further examination, Talwin, a pain medication. At 5:30 that afternoon decedent was discovered dead in her bathroom by Mr. Boyd, having expired as a result of a myocardial infarction. Mr. Boyd filed a wrongful death action against Albert Einstein Medical Center ("AEMC") , alleging that AEMC was vicariously liable for the negligence of participating physicians. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AEMC. It found that Mr. Boyd failed to establish AEMC's liability under the ostensible agency theory. 

Issue:

Did the lower court err in granting summary judgment in favor of AEMC?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court held that summary judgment was improper where there was an issue of material fact as to whether the participating physicians were the ostensible agents of AEMC. The court noted AEMC covenanted that it would provide health care services and benefits to members in order to promote their health, Mr. Boyd paid his doctor's fee to AEMC, and Mr. Boyd selected his primary care physicians from the list provided by AEMC. The court found that because the decedent was required to follow AEMC's mandates and did not directly seek the attention of a specialist, there was an inference that Mr. Boyd looked to AEMC for care and not solely to the physicians. The court found the decedent submitted to the care of the participating physicians in response to an invitation from AEMC.

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