Explain the Fine Print to Overcome Ostensible Agency Claims in Provider Services Contracts

Explain the Fine Print to Overcome Ostensible Agency Claims in Provider Services Contracts

Introduction

In a recent Fifth Appellate District case, Magallanes De Valle v. Doctors Medical Center of Modesto (2022), plaintiff challenged summary judgment in favor of Doctors Medical Center of Modesto for her medical malpractice claim by her treating physician in a surgical procedure.[i]  While the Court of Appeal ultimately upheld summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff’s ostensible agency theory, the case provides some useful best practice tips on how to overcome or avoid ostensible agency claims in the context of medical provider services contracts.

 

Avoiding an Inference of Ostensible Agency

In her opposition to the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, plaintiff argued despite initialing the provider services contracts provision expressly stating, “Physicians are not employees or agents of the hospital,” she did not understand the paragraph because it was not written in Spanish.[ii]  She further argued no staff provided her with a Spanish translation or explained the paragraph in Spanish.[iii]  Plaintiff also alleged no staff ever gave her a document written in Spanish which stated her physician was not an employee or agent of the hospital.[iv]  Thus, plaintiff alleged she believed her physician was an employee or agent of the hospital, thereby supporting an ostensible agency argument.

How do attorneys avoid claims similar to Ms. Magallanes de Valle’s?  They can be avoided by explaining the fine print in the provider services contract in the patient’s preferred language and document the patient’s understanding and assent to each important clause.  Although it might take additional time for intake staff to explain these important clauses, this additional time can weaken a patient’s subsequent litigation allegation s/he did not understand or agree to the provision(s) in the provider services contract which s/he signed.

 

Applying the Tyson & Mendes Methods – Reasonableness and Common Sense

The Magallanes De Valle case also provides a lesson on applying the Tyson & Mendes methods in medical malpractice cases: always present the client’s case with reasonableness and common sense.

Which is a more reasonable story: a patient who, after signing provider services contract without question, then sues the hospital at which she was allegedly injured based on an allegation s/he did not understand the contract; or the hospital which has documented the patient’s understanding and assent to each important clause of said contract at the time of admission?  Which story appeals to a jury’s common sense?

The plaintiffs’ bar is quite creative in asserting arguments to circumvent prejudicial contracts like provider services contract.  The defense bar can, and should, employ best practices to eviscerate such arguments by advising their medical provider clients to explain important contractual clauses on patient admission, and to document the patient’s understanding and assent to such clauses.

 

 

 

 


[i] Magallanes De Valle v. Doctors Medical Center of Modesto (2022) Superior Court No. 2026884.

[ii] Magallanes de Valle, supra, at p. 3, (Underline original).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

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