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Illinois Appellate Court Makes Proving Apparent Agency In Chicago Easier

On June 5, 2009, the First District Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Chicago affirming a trial court ruling by Judge Daniel M. Locallo clarifying certain issues related to the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1993 ruling in Gilbert v. Sycamore Memorial Hospital,156 Ill.2d 511, 622 N.E.2d 788 (1993).  The opinion is captioned Spiegelman v. Victory Memorial Hospital, 1-07-3195 (1st Dist. June 5, 2009).

In 1993 the Illinois Supreme Court recognized that a hospital can be held vicariously liable for the conduct of a non employee doctor provided that the hospital 1) acted in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the individual who was alleged to be negligent was an employee or agent of the hospital; 2) created an appearance of authority and 3) the plaintiff acted in reliance upon the conduct of the hospital or its agent.  Gilbert v. Sycamore Memorial Hospital,156 Ill.2d 511, 622 N.E.2d 788 (1993).  

Now, the First District Appellate Court, which covers Chicago and Cook County, has decided another apparent agency case, Spiegelman v. Victory Memorial Hospital, 1-07-3195 (1st Dist. June 5, 2009), further clarifying the higher court’s earlier apparent agency rulings.  The court ruled that the mere existence of a release signed by the plaintiff identifying its physicians as independent contractors does not, in and of itself, create an insurmountable hurdle to the holding out element.  The court reasoned that based on the totality of facts and the ambiguity of the consent form, a jury could reasonably conclude that the consent was ambiguous and therefore did not adequately inform the plaintiff of her doctor’s independent status.

Furthermore, with regard to the reasonable reliance element, the court found that the the admission of newspaper advertisements exalting the health care the hospital offered were relevant to establish that the hospital was holding itself out as a complete provider of medical care.  It was irrelevant that the plaintiff did not testify that she actually saw the advertisements.  It was only essential that the plaintiff testify that she relied upon the hospital to provide her with complete medical care.  The court reaffirmed the concept that reliance is satisfied if the plaintiff reasonably relied upon the hospital to provide medical care, rather than a specific physician.