State Hospitals’ Immunity Against Malpractice Suits

January 17, 2014

Campbell County Memorial Hospital v. Williams, — P.3d —, 2014 WL 46689 (Wyo. 2014)

The Wyoming Supreme Court has held that a state hospital cannot be vicariously liable for malpractice of independent contractors who deliver care at the hospital. This form of liability is blocked by the government’s immunity against tort suits.

Wyoming law has a rule known as “ostensible agency” and saying that “Where a hospital holds itself out to the public as providing a given service, and where the hospital enters into a contractual arrangement with one or more physicians to direct and provide the service, and where the patient engages the services of the hospital without regard to the identity of a particular physician, and where as a matter of fact the patient is relying upon the hospital to deliver the desired health care and treatment, the doctrine of respondeat superior applies and the hospital is vicariously liable for damages proximately resulting from the neglect, if any, of such physicians.” Sharsmith v. Hill, 764 P.2d 667, 672 (Wyo. 1988)

This rule, however, only applies to private hospitals and other medical institutions. State hospitals are exempted, and here is why:

Wyoming law gives the government a qualified immunity against liability in torts. Under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1–39–109, “A governmental entity is liable for damages resulting from bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage caused by the negligence of public employees while acting within the scope of their duties in the operation of any public hospital or in providing public outpatient health care.” Independent contractors are not on the government’s liability list.

Courts have no authorization to add anything to that list, as under Art. 1, § 8 to the Wyoming Constitution, no suit can be maintained against the State until the legislature makes provision for such filing. Absent an explicit statutory provision that waives the State’s immunity, no suit can be filed against the State. Hjorth Royalty Co. v. Trustees of University, 222 P. 9 (Wyo. 1924).

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