Roessler v. Novak

Florida District Court of Appeal 2003
Procedural History: Trial court granted Sarasota Memorial motion for summary judgment regarding its vicarious liability because Sarasota Memorial filed a motion stating that it was not liable for the acts of Dr. Lichtenstein because he was not an employee or agent of Sarasota Memorial.
Facts: Roessler was diagnosed at a walk-in clinic and then referred to the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. He was evaluated and scans of his abdomen were taken and read by Dr. Lichtenstein, a radiologist on duty at Sarasota Memorial. After surgery, there were severe complications where it was discovered that he had an abscess not indicated by Dr. Lichtenstein, and so he sued the hospital for Dr. Lichtenstein’s negligence in misinterpreting the scans taken in Sarasota Memorial’s radiology department. Dr. Lichtenstein was an independent contractor of Sarasota Memorial and was employed by SMH Radiology. The radiologists employed by SMH Radiology worked at Sarasota Memorial to provide all radiological services at all times. Roessler did not attempt to secure a specialist on his own, but accepted the physician provided to him by the hospital.
Legal Issue: Did Sarasota Memorial, though its actions, represent that Dr. Lichtenstein was its apparent agent?
Rules: A principal may be held liable for the acts of its agent that are within the course and scope of the agency (respondeat superior).

An apparent agency exists only if:

1. Representation by the purported (rumored) principle
2. Reliance on that representation by a third party
3. Change in position by the third party in reliance on the representation

  • Restatement (Second) of Agency

Application: Because the plaintiff relied on the representation of Dr. Lichtenstein as an agent of the hospital, the hospital can still be held vicariously liable for the negligence of the independently contracted physician.
Holding: A hospital may be held vicariously liable for the acts of physicians even if they are independent contractors, if these physicians act with the apparent authority of the hospital.
More generally, a principle may be held vicariously liable for the acts of an apparent agent (independent contractor) when a third party relies on representation by a purported principle and there is a change in the position of the third party in reliance on the representation.

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