Law School Case Brief
Noel v. Lawrence & Mem'l Hosp. - 53 Conn. Supp. 269 (2014)
In deciding whether a hospital is vicariously liable for "independent contractor" doctors in its emergency room, all questions concerning agency would be decided as a matter of law if hospitals have nondelegable duties concerning the adequacy of emergency room care. The answer to the question whether hospitals have such nondelegable duties in turn depends upon whether hospitals' statutory and common-law duties to emergency patients are so important to society that they may not be contracted out.
Plaintiff patient has filed a tort action following a visit to an emergency room licensed to defendant hospital. Fearing a possible stroke, plaintiff came to the emergency department seeking urgent treatment. He had no say in who treated him, was assisted by regular doctors engaged by hospital to staff emergency room, and signed a hospital form stating that his physicians were not hospital employees or agents of hospital, and that physicians, not hospital, were responsible for care physicians provided to him. Defendants filed a motion for direct verdict on ground that it was not vicariously liable for damages resulting from breach of standard of care by the emergency room physicians.
Is the defendant hospital vicariously liable for damages resulting from the breach of standard of case by emergency room physicians?
On the question of vicarious liability, the Court denied defendant hospital's motion for a directed verdict as a matter of law. Noting that hospitals have significant statutory and common-law duties the Court held that hospitals have a non-delegable duty of care. The nondelegable duty of care recognized here applies when a patient goes to the emergency room for services. The legal duties imposed on them, the absence of bargaining power, the need for speed, and the hospitals' exclusive responsibility for choosing all of the service providers involved make it reasonable for patients to expect that the hospital is responsible for their treatment when they are in the emergency room. These factors make a hospital's duty to provide adequate emergency room care important enough to recognize as nondelegable regardless whether any other hospital duties may be delegated. Notably, hospitals' emergency duties are too important to apply only actual and apparent agency rules. The hospital's nondelegable duty means it is responsible for any misdeeds by the doctor regardless whether the situation meets traditional agency rules. The Court looked to several state and federal laws and regulations regarding emergency care, including the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).
The Court reserved decision on the remaining motion concerning negligence.
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