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Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Medical Malpractice > Are Georgia Doctors Vicariously Liable for Their Medical Students’ Malpractice?

Are Georgia Doctors Vicariously Liable for Their Medical Students’ Malpractice?


Vicarious liability is a concept in Georgia personal injury law that holds a principal responsible for the negligent acts of an agent. To give a simple example, consider a truck driver who runs a red light and causes a traffic accident while making a delivery for her employer. Under vicarious liability, the victims of that traffic accident could sue the employer for damages, as the truck driver was acting as the employer’s agent when the crash occurred.

Court of Appeals: Med Student Not the “Agent” of Doctors Who Train Them

A more complicated legal question is whether or not a practicing physician can be held vicariously liable for alleged acts of negligence committed by a medical student under their supervision. A divided panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue. In this case, the medical student attended the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), which had a “clinical training affiliation agreement” with the defendant surgeons.

The plaintiff in this case, Statham v. Quang, underwent a surgical gynecological procedure performed by the defendants. During the procedure, the medical student made a mistake that burned the plaintiff’s rectum. This injury required additional surgeries to repair.

The plaintiff sued the defendants on a number of grounds, including vicarious liability for the medical student’s error. But the trial court granted summary judgment to the defense on that issue, holding the student was not a legal “agent” of the defendants and therefore they could not be held vicariously liable.

By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge’s ruling. The majority held that under the written contract between PCOM and the defendants, the medical student “was not considered an employee or agent of the practice.” Although the defendants “supervised” the student’s training, they did not provide her with any compensation or employment benefits for her work. So even though PCOM paid the surgeons for their own supervisory work, that still did not create a principal-agent relationship between the defendants and the medical student.

The dissenting judge thought it was not that simple. Under “general agency” principles, the contract between the defendants and PCOM was insufficient, in and of itself, to disprove the existence of a principal-agent relationship. The dissent would have submitted the issue to a jury rather than dismissing it at the summary judgment stage.

It should also be noted, however, that the majority’s opinion only applies to the question of the defendants’ vicarious liability. The plaintiff may still pursue her medical malpractice claims against the defendants based on their own negligence as well as their “negligent supervision” of the medical students. The defendants are simply not vicariously liable under these circumstances.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

If you have been harmed due to the negligent acts of a physician, or any other health care provider, it is important to seek out legal advice from a qualified Atlanta personal injury lawyer right away. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



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