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One who employs an independent contractor to perform services for another which are accepted in the reasonable belief that the services are being rendered by the employer or by his servants, is subject to liability for physical harm caused by the negligence of the contractor in supplying such services, to the same extent as though the employer were supplying them himself or by his servants.
Plaintiff Mary Louise Diggs was diagnosed with common duct stones and complications due to gall stone disease. Plaintiff was referred to defendant Dr. Ismael Goco, a board-certified general surgeon. Plaintiff chose to have Dr. Goco perform the gall bladder surgery. Plaintiff was admitted to defendant Forsyth Medical Center ("FMC"), a hospital operated by defendant Forsyth Memorial Hospital, Inc. ("FMH"). Plaintiff's gall bladder surgery required general anesthesia. Piedmont Anesthesia & Pain Consultants, P.A. ("Piedmont") had a contract with FMH that granted Piedmont the exclusive right to provide anesthesia services at FMC. Piedmont employees Dr. Joseph McConville and nurse Sheila Crumb were responsible for administering anesthesia to plaintiff through an induction and intubation process. At some point during the attempts, Crumb perforated plaintiff's esophagus, a fact that was not discovered until many hours after the gall bladder surgery was over. Plaintiff contended that as a result of the perforation, she suffered severe and permanent injuries. Consequently, plaintiff filed suit against the defendant hospitals, Crumb, Dr. Conville, and Piedmont (collectively, the “anesthesiology defendants”) alleging that the defendants were individually liable for their negligence in administering the anesthesia and that the hospital defendants were vicariously liable for the anesthesiology defendants' negligence, as well as the negligence of the hospital floor nurses who, following plaintiff's surgery, failed to immediately notice the perforation. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her claims against the anesthesiology defendants. The hospital defendants moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Plaintiff appealed.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant hospital be held liable for the negligence of the anesthesiology defendants?
The court held that the plaintiff had sufficiently shown that the hospital could be held liable under apparent agency in regard to anesthesia services. A jury could find that the hospital held itself out as providing the services, that the patient looked to it to perform them, and that she accepted them in the reasonable belief that they were being rendered by the hospital. Accordingly, the court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the hospital.