Informed consent and apparent authority are two important legal concepts that are relevant in the healthcare industry. Informed consent refers to the right of patients to receive adequate information about their medical treatment options and to make informed decisions about their care. Apparent authority, on the other hand, refers to the legal doctrine that holds hospitals and other healthcare providers responsible for the actions of their employees or agents, even if those actions were not explicitly authorized.
In Johnson v. New York Methodist Hospital the plaintiff alleged that she did not give informed consent for a medical procedure and that the hospital was liable for the actions of an independent contractor who performed the procedure.
In 2008, plaintiff Dovile Johnson underwent a laparoscopic procedure at New York Methodist Hospital to remove an ectopic pregnancy. The procedure was performed by Dr. Joseph Jones, who was not an employee of the hospital but rather an independent contractor who had staff privileges. Prior to the procedure, Dr. Jones obtained Johnson’s signature on a consent form that stated the risks and benefits of the procedure. However, Johnson claimed that she was not given adequate information about the procedure and its risks and that she did not understand the form she signed.
After the procedure, Johnson experienced significant abdominal pain and was readmitted to the hospital several times. In 2010, she underwent a second surgery to remove a 12-centimeter mass from her left ovary. Johnson sued the hospital and Dr. Jones, alleging that she did not give informed consent for the laparoscopic procedure and that the hospital was vicariously liable for Dr. Jones’ actions.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding that Johnson had given informed consent for the procedure and that the hospital was not vicariously liable for Dr. Jones’ actions because he was an independent contractor. The appellate court affirmed the decision, but the New York Court of Appeals granted Johnson leave to appeal.
The Court of Appeals first addressed the issue of informed consent. The court held that informed consent requires more than just obtaining a signature on a form. Rather, it requires that the patient be provided with adequate information about the risks and benefits of the procedure, as well as any alternative treatments, and that the patient be able to make an informed decision based on that information. The court noted that the burden of proving informed consent lies with the defendant, and that the evidence must show that the patient was given the information necessary to make an informed decision.
In this case, the court found that there were questions of fact as to whether Johnson had given informed consent for the laparoscopic procedure. While Dr. Jones had obtained Johnson’s signature on a consent form, there was evidence that he did not explain the risks and benefits of the procedure to her, that he did not answer her questions, and that she did not understand the form she signed. The court held that these issues should be decided by a jury.
The court then turned to the issue of apparent authority. The court noted that the hospital could be liable for the actions of an independent contractor if the hospital held out the contractor as its agent or if the patient reasonably believed that the contractor was acting on behalf of the hospital. The court held that there were questions of fact as to whether Dr. Jones was acting as an apparent agent of the hospital, as there was evidence that the hospital had referred patients to Dr. Jones, that he had an office on hospital premises, and that he wore a hospital identification badge.
The court noted that the hospital’s consent form listed Dr. Jones as a member of the hospital staff, which could have led Johnson to believe that he was an employee of the hospital. However, the court also noted that the hospital had taken steps to inform patients that Dr. Jones was an independent contractor, and that there was evidence that Johnson knew or should have known that he was not an employee of the hospital. Therefore, the court held that the issue of apparent authority should also be decided by a jury.
The Johnson case illustrates the complexity of these legal concepts in medical malpractice cases and the need for careful consideration of the facts in each case. Informed consent requires more than just obtaining a signature on a form, and healthcare providers must take steps to ensure that patients understand the information provided to them. Consulting an experienced New York medical malpractice lawyer is essential in cases involving informed consent and apparent authority. A lawyer can help victims of medical malpractice understand their legal rights and options, and can work to hold healthcare providers accountable for their negligence or wrongful actions.