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Medical office liable for independent contractor doctor's actions


Imagine that you seek medical treatment at an office. You arrive at your appointment, a doctor is assigned to treat you, and you later find yourself in pain due to medical malpractice.

Now imagine that the negligent office suddenly asserts that the treating doctor was not their “employee,” and so they should not be liable. That was the situation in the recent Illinois Appellate Court case of McCarthy v. Dillon’s Dental Services, L.L.C.

Pain caused by negligent treatment

The patient sought treatment for pain in her mouth and received a root canal from a dental office. During the procedure, a small file bit separated and lodged in one of the patient’s teeth. The treating dentist did not inform the patient of the file bit inside her tooth.

After the root canal procedure, the patient began having infections in that tooth, along with pain and other discomfort. When the patient returned to the dental office, another dentist-the owner of the dental office-examined the patient and discovered the file bit. The owner-dentist informed the patient of the lodged file bit and suggested placing a crown on the tooth.

The patient filed a medical malpractice claim against both the dental office and the treating dentist. After a trial, the circuit court awarded damages to the patient. The dental office appealed its portion of the liability, arguing that the dentist who treated the patient initially was an independent contractor of the dental office, and not an employee, and thus the dental office should not be held liable.

Should the patient have known?

In reviewing the case, the Illinois Appellate Court noted that the dental office could be liable for the actions of its independent contractor or “agent”-in this case, the treating dentist-under the legal theory of “apparent authority.” Under this theory, the dental office could be liable for the authority it expressly gave or appeared to give to the treating dentist.

The patient had offered sufficient evidence to establish that the dental office could be liable for the treating dentist’s actions. The patient showed that she had sought dental care from the dental office generally and did not specifically seek care from the treating dentist. Also, the owner-dentist and the dental office did not inform her that the treating dentist was an independent contractor and not an employee. The patient had no reason to know that the treating patient was an independent contractor; the dentist simply appeared to be another doctor on staff at the office. Finally, there was evidence that the patient was not given an informed consent form at the office. Thus, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the judgment in favor of the patient.

Seek compensation for your suffering

Regardless of the type of medical malpractice involved, a doctor or its insurance company may seek to avoid liability using any number of legal theories.

If you or someone close to you is suffering due to the treatment, or lack of treatment, provided by a medical practitioner,seek an attorney with extensive experience in medical malpractice cases and a track record of success in seeking compensation for its clients. You need an attorney who will stand up for your rights and pursue the compensation you deserve.

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