In a recent Indiana Supreme Court case, the Court held that non-hospital medical entities that serve as a health care providers may be vicariously liable for physicians whom they independently contract with unless they give meaningful notice to the patient, the patient has independent special knowledge of the arrangement between the non-hospital medical entity and its physicians, or the patient otherwise knows about these relationships. This decision helps prevent non-hospital medical facilities from evading liability in negligence cases involving the facility and independent contractor physicians.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff went to Marion Open MRI (the defendant) to get MRIs of his spine. Marion Open MRI is not a hospital, but an outpatient diagnostic imaging center that is not a qualified healthcare provider under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. Marion Open MRI independently contracted with a radiologist to read MRIs and sent the plaintiff’s MRI images to the radiologist for interpretation. The radiologist was never physically present at the Marion Open MRI facility and instead interpreted the images from his home office. The radiologist’s reports appeared on Marion Open MRI letterhead and had zero indication of his independent contractor status.
The plaintiff filed his complaint alleging medical malpractice, claiming that Marion Open MRI and the radiologist failed to diagnose and treat his spinal condition which has now resulted in permanent injuries. Marion Open MRI argued that it was not liable for the radiologist’s actions because the relevant law does not apply to non-hospital entities. In response, the plaintiff argued there was a dispute of material fact whether the radiologist was acting as an apparent agent for Marion Open MRI, even considering the fact that Marion Open MRI is not a hospital. When there is a genuine dispute of material fact, the case must go to trial. The trial court ultimately decided not to go to trial and ruled in favor of Marion Open MRI. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court decision, holding that “it is reasonable for a patient in a diagnostic imaging center to believe that the radiologists interpreting images for the center are employees or agents of the center, unless the center informs them of the contrary.” The case was appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.