History of the Doctrine of Corporate Negligence

Recent years have seen the doctrine of corporate negligence as the judicial answer to the problem of allocating hospital’s liability for the negligent acts of health practitioners, absent facts to support the application of respondeat superior or apparent authority. Its formulation proceeds from the judiciary’s acknowledgment that in these modern times, the duty of providing quality medical service is no longer the sole prerogative and responsibility of the physician. The modern hospitals have changed structure. Hospitals now tend to organize a highly-professional medical staff whose competence and performance need to be monitored by the hospitals commensurate with their inherent responsibility to provide quality medical care. (Purcell v. Zimberman, 18 Ariz. App. 75, 500 P 2d 335 (1972)).

The doctrine has its genesis in Darling v. Charleston Community Hospital, 33 Ill. 2d 326, 211 N.E. 2d 253). There, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that “the jury could have found a hospital negligent, inter alia, in failing to have a sufficient number of trained nurses attending the patient; failing to require a consultation with or examination by members of the hospital staff; and failing to review the treatment rendered to the patient.” On the basis of Darling, other jurisdictions held that a hospital’s corporate negligence extends to permitting a physician known to be incompetent to practice at the hospital. (Corleto v. Hospital, 138 N.J. Super. 302, 350 A. 2d 534 (Super. Ct. Law Div. 1975); Purcell v. Zimbelman, 18 Ariz. App. 75,500 P. 2d 335 (1972); Hospital Authority v. Joiner, 229 Ga. 140, 189 S.E. 2d 412 (1972)). With the passage of time, more duties were expected from hospitals, among them: (1) the use of reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment; (2) the selection and retention of competent physicians; (3) the overseeing or supervision of all persons who practice medicine within its walls; and (4) the formulation, adoption and enforcement of adequate rules and policies that ensure quality care for its patients. (Welsh v. Bulger, 548 Pa. 504, 698 A. 2d 581 (1997)). Thus, in Tucson Medical Center, Inc. v. Misevich, 115 Ariz. 34, 545 P 2d 958 (1976), it was held that a hospital, following the doctrine of corporate responsibility, has the duty to see that it meets the standards of responsibilities for the care of patients. Such duty includes the proper supervision of the members of its medical staff. And in Bost v. Riley, 262 S.E. 2d 391, 300 NC 194, 269 S.E. 2d 621 (1980), the court concluded that a patient who enters a hospital does so with the reasonable expectation that it will attempt to cure him. The hospital accordingly has the duty to make a reasonable effort to monitor and oversee the treatment prescribed and administered by the physicians practicing in its premises.