In many circumstances, when one sues a company in relation to the actions of its employee the claim can be sustained against both parties. It might be that the company was negligent by own actions, in supervising or hiring the employee. It might be that they have policies or practices which allow the employee to commit the conduct. However, this is not always the case, as was discovered by the unfortunate Plaintiffs in Campbell-Henry v. Good Samaritan Regional Health Center et al, 2022 IL App (5th) 210147-U (5th Dist. IL 2022).
A tragic case of alleged medical malpractice, Penny Campbell-Henry brought claims against a number of healthcare entities in relation to the death of Kent Henry in 2014. Mr. Henry died shortly after being discharged from the hospital after an angioplasty performed by Dr. Walter Parham at Good Samaritan. The Plaintiff alleged in Count I that Dr. Parham and “his employer” Physician Services Corporation of Southern Illinois, Inc. (“Physician Services”) discharged Mr. Henry from the hospital with dangerously deficient magnesium and potassium levels, leading to his death. After conducting discovery Good Samaritan was voluntarily dismissed from the suit.
Shortly before trial, the Plaintiff and Dr. Parham reached a confidential settlement agreement, and both asserted that notwithstanding the settlement with the doctor the Plaintiff still wished to continue the case against Physician Services. The employer then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting that they be dismissed as well, arguing that they were only vicariously liable through Dr. Parham and that, effectively, if he no longer had any liability then they shouldn’t have any either. They argued that the Plaintiff had alleged no independent negligence on the part of the company itself apart from the behavior of Dr. Parham, and that the Physician affidavit which the Plaintiff used to support their case contained no mention of Physician Services at all, only talking about the negligence of Dr. Parham and Good Samaritan. The Circuit Court granted the Motion in favor of Physician Services and the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Reconsider that judgement.
The Plaintiff, on her part, argued that she had in fact plead a negligence claim against the Physician Services along with the doctor, and that furthermore the settlement with Dr. Parham was in good faith and that Physician Services would be entitled to a setoff of the amount of the doctor’s settlement should they have a judgement entered against them. Things got rather messy after that, with the Plaintiff noting that another employee of Physician’s Group had provided treatment, Physician Services pointing out that the only negligence mentioned in the Complaint was by Dr. Parham, and that the Plaintiff never attempted to amend their Complaint to adda separate count for Physician Services.
Ultimately, the Fifth District Appellate Court found that the original dismissal of Physician Services was correct. It found that the fair reading of the Plaintiff’s Complaint only supported vicarious liability through the actions of Dr. Parham. Most tellingly, at no point in any of the supporting documentation or arguments had the Plaintiff articulated a factual basis for independent liability on the part of Physician Services prior to her Motion to Reconsider—not in the actual Complaint nor in the original argument against the Motion for Summary Judgement. Given that it’s clear from the facts that the settlement with Dr. Parham was merely supposed to clear the board for the trial, this is a truly unfortunate result on a very unusual legal circumstance.