Hospital Liable For Independent Contractor ER Doctors Negligence

Cindy died less than 24 hours later. Her estate sought to hold Samaritan liable for the doctors’ alleged negligence under theories of nondelegable duty, inherent function, and agency law principles of delegation.”…, Washington State Supreme Court Holds Hospitals Liable For Independent Contractor ER Doctors Negligence, June 2024


The Supreme Court of the State of Washington stated in its Opinion filed on April 11, 2024:


“A patient who goes to the emergency room, if conscious, is mostly concerned with getting care, not with untangling the contractual relationship between the hospital and the doctors who work there. And yet the characterization of the hospital-doctor relationship has profound implications for a patient’s ability to recover against the hospital for negligent treatment. This case asks us to decide when a hospital may be liable for the negligence of a doctor working in, but not as an employee of, a hospital in its emergency room.


“Essex argues that hospital licensing statutes and regulations create a nondelegable duty to emergency room patients. Generally, an entity is not liable for the injuries caused by an independent contractor whose services are engaged by the entity.


However, where an entity has a nondelegable duty, it cannot avoid liability simply by delegating its duty to an independent contractor. Instead, an entity will be vicariously liable for the independent contractor’s negligent performance of that duty absent special circumstances not present here.”


Once a hospital undertakes to provide emergency services, it is subject to regulation and must:

Maintain the capacity to perform emergency triage and medical screening exam twenty-four hours per day;

Define the qualifications and oversight of staff delivering emergency care services;

Use hospital policies and procedures which define standards of care;

Assure emergency equipment, supplies and services necessary to meet the needs of presenting patients are immediately available.


“We conclude that WAC 246-320-136 and WAC 246-320-281 create a nondelegable duty for hospitals providing emergency care services through nonemployee doctors. Although hospitals may delegate the performance of this duty to nonemployee doctors, the ultimate duty—and thus the potential vicarious liability for the failure to meet that duty—remains with the hospital.”


“We conclude that our statutes and regulations impose nondelegable duties on hospitals concerning the provision of emergency services. A hospital remains responsible for those nondelegable duties regardless of whether it performs those duties through its own staff or contracts with doctors who are independent contractors to do so.


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