Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine often utilized in medical negligence cases. The employer’s hold the responsibility of the action performed by the employees in whatever work is being done in the organization. If the actions are held to be unlawful, then the employer can be held responsible. According to medical negligence cases, the defendant had to perform certain actions under the duty of care.

If the defendant has failed to provide these duty of care, and if the plaintiff has suffered damages as a consequence of this failure, then the plaintiff can claim damages in terms of monetary benefits (Anti-discrimination Commission Queensland, 2007). The case under discussion is Negron v. Patel, et. al, (1998). This was regarding a federal case filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 8, 1998, against a HMO. The Court claimed that physician’s acting negligently were actually agents of the HMO. Peter Negron was an autistic patient who was entitled for benefits under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Act or "FEHBA” scheme.

The compliant was filed with the Aetna US Healthcare HMO alleging that the hospital did not provide adequate care, in spite of the patient giving several complaints of gastrointestinal problems (Martin, 2008, MMMPA, 2008). Peter Negron was an autistic patient who was capable of performing his own functions regarding hygiene and other personal activities. However, he had developed salmonella infection and the condition was not diagnosed by the attending physicians from Aetna. The patient complaint of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdomen pain and the physicians waited for more than a month to actually hospitalize.

The patient’s parents repeatedly requested and pleaded with the HMO’s physicians to actually hospitalize their son, but the attending physicians did not do so citing that the condition was not serious enough to require hospitalization. The patient was finally referred to a gastroenterologist, but at this time his condition was very serious as he had developed adult respiratory distress syndrome along with disseminated intravascular coagulation. The patient also had multiple strokes, brain injury and paralysis and required amputation of his foot (Martin, 2008, MMMPA, 2008).

The parents of Peter Negron alleged corporate negligence by the attending physicians. Their promised benefits were withheld with an aim of gaining financially. There was a specific contract signed by the HMO with the Negron’s for providing healthcare facilities. In this case, the negligence was not claimed on the physicians of Aetna, but on Aetna US healthcare under vicarious liability or respondeat superior. Under this doctrine, the company or agency would be held responsible for torts and other malpractices conducted by the employees, even though the company themselves are not negligent.

If it was an independent physician, then the physician himself would have been held negligent (Martin, 2008, MMMPA, 2008). Suppose, even if the physicians were not employees of the organization, then the organization itself would be held liable under the apparent agency theory. This theory means that if the agency creates an impression in the mind of the patients that the physician is a part of the organization, and the physician along with the organization would be responsible for the provision of healthcare. The employee physician’s name in this case was listed as a participating physician (Martin, 2008, MMMPA, 2008).

The Negron vs. Patel case was important because this was the first time that vicarious liability was utilized by a Federal court for a HMO. Previously, the HMO’s were enjoying a lot of benefits under the ERISA preemption. The ERIS preemption clauses would only be applied if the HMO does not administer the health packages properly, and not in cases of negligence. ERISA may block a claim if applied in a proper manner. However, if the patient is able to demonstrate that due to medical negligence damaged was suffered, then the ERISA preempt clause will not apply (Martin, 2008, MMMPA, 2008).


Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (2007). Vicarious Liability. Retrieved on November 26, 2008 from ADCQ Web site: http://www. adcq. qld. gov. au/Brochures07/vicarious. html#vic1 Martin, R. (2008). Movement on vicarious HMO liability. Retrieved on November 26, 2008 from Physician’s News Digest Web site: http://www. physiciansnews. com/law/798martin. html Monsees, Miller, Mayer, Presley & Amick Corporation (2008). Breaking Down the Wall (ERISA): Theories of Recovery against HMO’s. Retrieved on November 26, 2008 from MMMPA Web site: http://www. mmmpalaw. com/CM/Articles/articles27. asp