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Whitlow v. Rideout Memorial Hospital – Med-Mal Litigation

The surviving children of a woman who died after an emergency room physician failed to diagnose her brain hemorrhage sued the hospital where she was admitted, alleging medical malpractice. stethascope

However, the hospital asserted it couldn’t be faulted for the emergency room’ physician’s actions because he was an independent contractor, a fact outlined in the patient intake forms. Trial court initially sided with defendant and granted summary judgment.

However, the California Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District reversed the earlier ruling in Whitlow v. Rideout Memorial Hospital Inc., finding merit in plaintiffs’ assertions that such forms and signatures may not provide ample notice of a doctor’s employment status to a patient in acute pain at a meaningful time and in a meaningful way.

Our Fort Myers medical malpractice attorneys know that it’s important in any case to identify all potential defendants in these complex cases. Often, employment practices are fragmented for the very purpose of limiting liability to these larger corporations. Those arguments aren’t always effective, particularly when we can show patient reasonably believed doctor/staffers were employed by the defendant hospital/health care provider at the time care was rendered.

Here, according to court records, decedent’s son was awoke by her around 1 a.m. one morning in August 2008. She screamed in pain that it was the worst headache she’d ever suffered in her life and begged him to take her to the hospital.

She began throwing up in the car, and again when they got to the hospital.

Around 3 a.m., they returned to the waiting room. She complained of a headache that was a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, but a short time later, shot up to a 10.

Her blood pressure was high, she was nauseous and vomiting and she was dizzy.

She cried in pain as the processor asked her to sign intake forms, the son would later testify. He insisted she could not read the forms and didn’t even attempt to as she offered a weak pen stroke to move the process along.

The form she signed stipulated all doctors and surgeons are not hospital employees, but rather independent contractors who bill separately. A sign on the wall echoed this same sentiment.

An emergency room doctor diagnosed her with muscle tension and discharged her around 7 a.m.

Two hours later, she fainted and was transported by ambulance back to the hospital, where she died two days later of a massive hemorrhage in her brain.

Her children filed a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The processor could not remember the patient, her mental acuity or whether she followed all protocol in having patient sign the form.

A neurosurgeon serving as an expert witness for plaintiff reviewed the records and said decedent’s condition was such at the time she signed those records, there was no way she could have understood what she was signing or what it meant.

Defendant doctor testified the insignia on his uniform indicated he was employed by “California Emergency Physicians” – not the hospital.

Trial court granted hospital’s motion for summary judgment, finding the hospital could not be vicariously liable for the actions of an independent contractor, and there was ample evidence decedent would have known doctor’s employment status at the time of her treatment.

Appellate court reversed. The court noted case law cited by both plaintiffs and defense on this issue does not exonerate a hospital just because doctors are labeled independent contractors.

Appeals court noted defendant failed to cite any case in which any other court in that state found a patient entering an emergency room in dire straits and excruciating pain should be forced to sign an admission form that acts as a “notice” that hospital isn’t responsible for her care.

Therefore, the case will continue.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Whitlow v. Rideout Memorial Hospital Inc., June 9, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District

More Blog Entries:

Florida Medical Malpractice Claims Reduced by Good Doctor-Patient Communication, June 16, 2015, Fort Myers Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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