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Estate of Cordero v. Christ Hospital

403 N.J. Super. 306, 958 A.2d 101 (App. Div. 2008)

AGENCY — Apparent authority can be found to exist if a third party, such as a patient, reasonably believes that the actor, such as an anesthesiologist, is acting on a principal’s behalf and accepts services from the actor on that basis.

A patient was admitted to a hospital emergency room and underwent surgery intended to facilitate ongoing dialysis treatment. An anesthesiologist who worked for an anesthesiology practice, contracted by the hospital, was assigned to provide services to the patient during her surgery. The anesthesiologist never told the patient that she was affiliated with the practice or that the hospital assumed no responsibility for her actions. Following the surgical procedure, the surgeon noticed a drop in the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate. The surgeon alerted the anesthesiologist, who was with the patient at the time, but she was unable to stabilize the patient. The hospital code team was able to resuscitate the patient but, as a result of brain damage, she never regained consciousness. Roughly three and one-half years later, the patient died. The patient’s estate settled negligence claims against the anesthesiologist and the practice. The estate’s claims against the hospital for vicarious liability and fraudulent concealment of evidence were dismissed, as were claims against the surgeon. The estate appealed the dismissal of the claims against the hospital.

On appeal, the Appellate Division disagreed with the lower court’s finding that the anesthesiologist had no apparent authority for the hospital, the legal theory on which the estate’s based its claim for vicarious liability. The lower court’s determination, which was based on the fact that there was no evidence that the hospital affirmatively held out the anesthesiologist as being under its supervision, was found to be incorrectly reached. The Court pointed out that apparent authority can be found to exist if a third party, such as the patient, reasonably believes that the actor, such as the anesthesiologist, is acting on the principal’s behalf and accepts services from the actor on that basis. Since the anesthesiologist was assigned by the hospital to the patient and there was no evidence that the patient was informed of the hospital’s non-relationship with the anesthesiologist or her practice, or that the hospital or anesthesiologist disclaimed the hospital’s responsibility for the anesthesiologist’s actions, the anesthesiologist was found to have apparent authority for the hospital. Based on this finding, the lower court’s dismissal of the estate’s claims for negligence against the hospital was reversed and remanded so that the estate could proceed with its negligence claims.


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