Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, admissions, affidavits and exhibits on file, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action against a physician and others for their alleged negligence in failing to diagnose her oral cancer in a timely manner. The plaintiff also named her health maintenance organization (HMO) as a defendant. She contends that the HMO is vicariously liable under both the doctrines of apparent authority and implied authority. The circuit court awarded summary judgment in favor of the HMO and its physicians holding that the HMO cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its physicians who are independent contractors. On appeal, the appellate court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
Can an HMO be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its independent-contractor physicians under agency law.?
The court held that an HMO was vicariously liable for the negligence of its independent-contractor physicians under both the doctrines of apparent authority and implied authority. Defendant held itself out to plaintiff as the provider of her health care, without informing her that the care was actually provided by independent contractors. Plaintiff had no choice of health plans and was required to obtain primary medical care from one of defendant's primary care physicians. There was a reasonable inference that plaintiff relied upon defendant to provide her health care services. Plaintiff presented adequate evidence to support a finding that defendant exerted sufficient control over plaintiff's doctors as to negate their status as independent contractors.