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In Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County v. Menapace, 2017 WY 131 (2017), the Wyoming Supreme Court confirmed that governmental entity hospitals are immune under the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (“WGCA”) from liability for the acts or omission of its apparent agents. Specifically, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County’s (“Hospital”) liability insurance did not extend liability coverage beyond the liability defined by the WGCA and that it was not vicariously liable for its apparent agents.

In 2012, the Hospital contracted with a medical services provider for hospitalist physician services. Dr. Lin Miao was one of the physicians provided under the contract to the Hospital as an independent contractor.

Plaintiff Darrell Menapace was admitted to the Hospital on June 6, 2013 complaining of leg numbness, cramping, and being unable to walk. Dr. Miao treated Mr. Menapace and discharged him on June 8, 2013. Subsequently, on June 11, 2013, Mr. Menapace presented to a Hospital nurse practitioner, who scheduled him for a procedure to take place two and a half days later. Not wanting to wait, Mr. Menapace referred himself to the University of Utah, where he underwent emergency bilateral above the knee amputations, due to acute limb ischemia, sepsis, and acute renal failure diagnoses.

Mr. Menapace filed suit against the Hospital, Dr. Miao, and the nurse practitioner. Mr. Menapace’s claims included a claim against the Hospital for vicarious liability based on Dr. Miao’s care and treatment.  In response, the Hospital asserted it was not liable for actions of independent contractors like Dr. Miao under the WGCA.

The district court denied the Hospital’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of vicarious liability, finding the Hospital waived immunity in purchasing liability insurance that included coverage for any acts or omissions the Hospital is legally responsible for. The Hospital appealed the decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The Wyoming Supreme Court held the WGCA allows any governmental entity the option to purchase liability insurance to cover “all or any portion” of the liability imposed under the WGCA. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-39-118(b). The Hospital purchased a liability insurance policy, which granted coverage for medical professional liability claims against the Hospital:

[Insurer] agrees to pay on behalf of the insured all sums which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as damages because of any claim or claims . . . arising out of the performance of medical professional services rendered or which should have been rendered . . . by the insured or any person for whose acts or omissions the insured is legally responsible.(Emphasis added).

Mr. Menapace argued that the term “legally responsible” extended liability to the acts or omissions of any person for which any other hospital would be legally responsible, like for an apparent agent. The Hospital argued that the term is not an extension of its liability, but a reference to liability under the WGCA. Agreeing with the Hospital, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that the insurance policy covered claims against the Hospital for liability under the WGCA only.

Hirst Applegate routinely represents medical providers, including hospitals, convalescent centers, surgical centers, physicians, and nurses, in state and federal court and before state licensing boards.  For more information, please contact Hirst Applegate at 307.632.0541.