Summary Judgment For Illinois Hospital On Actual Agency In Medical Malpratice Case Not A Final Order

Brandon Wilson required surgery for a fractured femur. He had a heart attack during surgery, which resulted in brain injury from lack of oxygen. Brandon sued Edward Hospital, where the surgery was done, and the doctors who treated him there.

To win against the hospital, Brandon had to show that the doctors were the hosptal’s actual or apparent agents. The hospital argued that the doctors were neither, and asked for summary judgment. The trial court gave the hospital judgment on the actual agent theory, but, ruling a question of fact existed, denied the hospital’s request on the apparent agency theory. Brandon then voluntarily dismissed his complaint.

One year later, Brandon re-filed, alleging the apparent agency theory against the hospital. The hospital asked the trial court to dismiss the re-filed complaint, arguing that it was barred by res judicata [second lawsuit alleging the same cause of action against the same parties not allowed]. The trial court refused to dismiss the re-filed complaint. But the court certified a question for immediate appeal – i.e., whether the re-filed complaint was a violation of the rule against claim-splittting and should be barred by res judicata.

The Second District Illinois Appellate Court felt the re-filed complaint was improper claim-splitting, so it reversed the trial court. Brandon then appealed to to the Illinois Supreme Court. The supreme court agreed that plaintiff could legitimately re-file the apparent agency theory. The re-filed complaint did not improperly split a claim because “actual agency” and “apparent agency” were not separate claims. There was only one claim, negligence. “Actual agency” and “apparent agency” were different elements of liability that could go toward proof of the single claim of negligence.

This case is important for the appellate practitioner because the supreme court ruled that the trial court order giving summary judgment to the hospital on “actual agency” was not a final order. If not final, then it would not be appealable even under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a). [Allowing instant appeal of certain final judgments before the whole case is finished.]

Read the whole opinion, Wilson v. Edward Hospital, 2012 IL 112898 (12/13/12), by clicking here.