Law School Case Brief
Cefaratti v. Aranow - 321 Conn. 593, 141 A.3d 752 (2016)
Under certain circumstances, proof of detrimental reliance is not required to establish an apparent agency in tort actions. Specifically, many courts, especially in cases seeking to hold a hospital vicariously liable for a physician's malpractice, have concluded that an apparent agency is established when the plaintiff proves that he or she looked to the principal to provide services and the principal, not the plaintiff, selected the specific person who actually provided the services and caused the plaintiff's injury. These courts have not required the plaintiff to establish detrimental reliance on the principal's representations that the tortfeasor was the principal's agent or employee, i.e., that the plaintiff would not have accepted the tortfeasor's services if the plaintiff had known that the tortfeasor was not the principal's agent. Indeed, many cases have held that the plaintiff is not even required to present affirmative evidence that he or she actually and reasonably believed that the tortfeasor was the principal's agent or employee.
The plaintiff, Lisa J. Cefaratti, brought a medical malpractice action against the defendants, Jonathan S. Aranow, Shoreline Surgical Associates, P.C. (Shoreline), and Middlesex Hospital (Middlesex), alleging that Aranow had left a surgical sponge in Cefaratti’s abdominal cavity during gastric bypass surgery. She further alleged that Middlesex was both directly liable for its own negligence during the surgery and vicariously liable for Aranow's negligence, because Middlesex had held Aranow out to the public as its agent or employee. Thereafter, Middlesex filed a motion for summary judgment claiming, among other things, that the plaintiff did not have a viable claim of vicarious liability against it because Aranow was not its actual agent or employee and the doctrine of apparent agency is not recognized in tort actions in Connecticut. The trial court agreed with Middlesex and granted its motion for summary judgment on the vicarious liability claim. The plaintiff appealed to the appellate court, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
Did the appellate court properly conclude that the doctrine of apparent authority does not apply to actions sounding in tort?
The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the judgment of the appellate court with directions to remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The doctrines of apparent authority and apparent agency were recognized in Connecticut for tort actions, based on case precedents. In a medical malpractice action by a patient against a physician and a hospital that arose from an alleged error during surgery, a claim of vicarious liability against the hospital based on apparent agency raised genuine issues of material fact, as the patient had specifically chosen the physician based on her knowledge of his skills and reputation, such that she had to show her actual and reasonable belief that he was the hospital's agent, that she detrimentally relied on that belief, and that she would not have used that physician if she had known he was not the hospital's agent or employee. To the extent that other cases held that the apparent authority and agency doctrines were rejected for tort actions, they were overruled.
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