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Thornton v. Maryland General Hospital

August 5, 2020

In Thornton v. Maryland General Hospital, The Plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Maryland General Hospital and the decedent’s treating obstetrician, Dr. Lee.  The Plaintiff alleged that Dr. Lee had breached the standard of care when the decedent suffered postpartum hemorrhaging after Dr.  Lee delivered her stillborn infant.  Maryland General Hospital filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing that Dr. Lee was neither the actual nor apparent agent of Maryland General Hospital and, thus, it could not be held vicariously liable for Dr. Lee’s conduct.
            As for the issue of “actual agency,” the Court held that Dr. Lee was not an employee or actual agent of Maryland General.  Specifically, it was clear from the independent contractor agreement between Maryland General and Dr. Lee, which expressly stated that Dr. Lee was not an employee, that the hospital and Dr. Lee had never intended for Dr. Lee to be an employee.  The Court held that this contractual arrangement comported with Maryland law, which concluded that physicians with hospital privileges – like Dr. Lee – are generally not considered hospital employees.
            With regard to the “apparent agency issue,” the Court held that it could not find that Dr. Lee, as a matter of law, was not an apparent agent of Maryland General.  Rather, the issue of apparent agency was a question for the jury to consider.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court looked at the circumstances of the decedent’s admission and the representations made during the care provided by Dr. Lee.  In particular, the decedent was admitted to the hospital on an emergency basis; she was not there for a specific appointment with Dr. Lee.  Similarly, the decedent had no prior relationship with Dr. Lee and when he arrived to provide care, he was wearing a Maryland General identification badge and apparently said nothing to indicate that he was not a hospital employee.  Based on the undisputed facts and the applicable law, the Court held that “appearances would have suggested and ordinary expectations would have been that [Dr. Lee] was a Maryland General employee or, at least, a jury could so conclude.”   Thus, Maryland General’s partial motion for summary judgment was denied in part and the apparent agency issue was to be submitted to the jury.
Thornton v. Maryland General Hospital, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1394 (D. Md. Jan. 7, 2015).