Georgia Court of Appeals Overturns Court Decision Finding Physician Liable for PA's Alleged Negligence

“The General Assembly knows how to impose legal liability if it wishes, and we will not engage in that [Physician Assistant Act] “It is language that the General Assembly did not include,” the panel said in its statement. “Therefore, we conclude that the trial court erred in finding that the PAA bore vicarious liability for the supervision of physicians for the medical acts of its PAs and reverse the denial of summary judgment [the defendant physician].”

In this case, the doctor and PA were employed by Northside Anesthesia Consultants, all of whom were named as defendants. The plaintiff in this medical malpractice lawsuit withdrew his negligence claim against the doctor, but argued that he was vicariously liable for the PA's alleged negligence because he was “responsible” for overseeing the PA's conduct. The court held that this liability supported the plaintiff's vicarious liability claim.

The Court of Appeal overturned this because the PAA had not adopted specific language that imposed any form of liability on a treating physician. To justify its decision, it referred to other laws in which the assessment of liability was anchored in the respective legal language. The decision is being appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Comment: Vicarious liability allegations are often raised in medical malpractice lawsuits, in which a patient plaintiff alleges that an independent physician, although not an employee of a hospital, is acting as an agent of the hospital. Under these circumstances, the interviewee manager's theory does not apply.

This theory of liability has found particularly fertile ground in situations where the alleged negligence was committed by an anesthesiologist, clinician, or other clinician who has an independent contractual relationship with the hospital. In determining whether a hospital is liable under this theory, courts typically consider whether the patient was informed before treatment that the provider was not a hospital employee and therefore independently liable for negligent actions. This can be accomplished through the use of signs, written informed consent, and verbal disclosures to the patient and family members.

Although agent liability is a recognized common law theory in Georgia, the appeals court focused only on the language of the PAA, which formed the sole basis of the plaintiff's complaint.