Hospital Not Entitled To Summary Judgment For Surgeon’s Negligence

On March 16, 2018, plaintiff, Barbara Stempniak, presented to the emergency department of Garden City Hospital with complaints of severe abdominal pain. The emergency department staff diagnosed Stempniak with cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) and admitted her to the hospital…, Michigan Appellate Court Affirms Hospital Not Entitled To Summary Judgment For Surgeon’s Negligence, Oct 2023


The next day, a resident in the emergency department requested Dr. Gross, a general surgeon, to perform a surgical consultation. It was undisputed that Stempniak did not have a prior professional relationship with Dr. Gross.


On March 18, 2018, Dr. Gross and Dr. Katherine Homer, a Garden City Hospital resident, removed Stempniak’s gallbladder laparoscopically. Stempniak’s common bile duct was cut open during the surgery. As a result, Stempniak developed an infection and was transferred to another hospital where she underwent two surgeries to repair the damage to her bile duct.


Stempniak and her husband filed their Michigan medical malpractice lawsuit alleging that Dr. Gross negligently cut Stempniak’s bile duct during the surgery. Stempniak further alleged that Garden City Hospital was vicariously liable for Dr. Gross’s negligence because he was the actual, apparent, and/or ostensible employee of Garden City Hospital.


Following discovery, Garden City Hospital moved for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10) arguing that it could not be held vicariously liable because Dr. Gross was an independent contractor and that it had no agency relationship, either actual or ostensible, with Dr. Gross. The trial court denied the motion for summary disposition, and Garden City Hospital thereafter appealed.


The State of Michigan Court of Appeals stated in its unpublished Per Curiam opinion dated July 28, 2023: “In this case, Stempniak presented to the emergency room of Garden City Hospital for treatment of her abdominal pain that had persisted for three days. A member of the hospital’s emergency staff sought a surgical consultation with Dr. Gross. It was ultimately determined that Stempniak needed gallbladder surgery, which was performed by Dr. Gross. It is undisputed that Stempniak had never met Dr. Gross before the consultation and she did not have a pre-existing relationship with him or any of the other medical staff that treated her during her stay at Garden City Hospital. We find that there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that Stempniak went to Garden City Hospital for treatment of her physical ailments and expected to be treated by the hospital.”


“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Stempniak as the non-moving party, we find that there is a genuine issue of material fact whether Stempniak had a reasonable belief that Gross was an agent of the hospital and thus affirm the trial court’s denial of the hospital’s motion for summary disposition.”


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