Legal Elements of Criminal versus Negligent Liability for the Organization
The concept of corporate criminal liability in the United States originally included mens rea offences as confirmed by the U S Supreme Court in New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company v U.S. The scope of corporate criminal liability was rapidly expanded by the lower courts to include offences at common law which were considered on a case to case basis. Since the theories on which the concept of corporate criminal liability was developed such as agency theory or vicarious liability are incompatible with the requirements of criminal law and therefore lacked strength and individualistic roots. This has made the corporate criminal liability gaining little importance. One of the arguments against the corporate criminal liability is that it is based on vague and broad standards leaving much discretion to the prosecutors and too little guidance to the courts as to the ways in which the standards can be applied. However corporate negligence is a doctrine under which the healthcare organizations are made liable if an organization failed to provide the standard of care to the patient. With the evolvement more corporate forms of healthcare organizations, courts recognized the fact that the hospitals could be made liable for the negligence of their employees under the theory of respondeat superior. Liabilities later were extended for the acts of those people who were not the employees of the hospital but who acted as ostensible agents of the hospital (Pozgar, 2006).
As a result of the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court in the case of York v Rush-Presbyterian St.Lukes Medical Center, once the plaintiff is able to establish that the hospital claimed itself as a provider of services in accordance with standards of the locality, the plaintiff would get the right of claiming under vicarious liability. This covers the actions of not only the employees of the hospital but also independent contractors such as attending physicians. However in order to make the hospital vicariously liable under the doctrine of apparent authority, it is essential for the plaintiff to prove that: (i) the hospital acted in a manner that made the plaintiff to reasonably believe that the individual who was negligent acted as an employee or agent of the hospital, (ii) when the acts of the agent showed the presence of apparent authority, the plaintiff has to prove that the hospital had the knowledge of such appearance and (iii) the plaintiff acted relying on the conduct of the hospital or its agent to provide services at acceptable standards. It is to be noted that no claim under vicarious liability would be attracted if the plaintiff knows or should have known that the physician was not an employee but only an independent contractor acting under apparent authority (Biller, 2007). Another point in the context is that the plaintiff can reasonably be believed to rely on the apparent agency of the employee or the independent contractor, when he/she relies on the hospital to provide medical care of reasonable standards rather than depending on the skill of any specific physician. It is also essential that the plaintiff should prove that he/she accepted the services of the agent in reliance on the perceived relationship between the agent and the principal and not on the reliance of the skill of the agent in receiving the services.
Biller, R. A. (2007). Apparent Agency in the Medical Malpractice Context afer York v Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center. Web.
Pozgar, G. D. (2006). Legal Aspects of Health Care Administration. New York: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.