Alpena malpractice action reinstated after Court improperly dismisses hospital on agency theory
This month the Court of Appeals overturned the Alpena Circuit Court and reinstated a malpractice claim against the Regional Medical Center. 35-year old Raymond Obuchowski had sued the Medical Center and two doctors, alleging that he was mis-diagnosed and mis-treated after suffering a stroke. He did not achieve service of process on the doctors and they were dismissed from the case "without prejudice." The hospital then sought dismissal of the claim against it, arguing that since its' agents had been dismissed, it could not be vicariously liable for Obuchowski's damages. The trial judge agreed and dismissed the claim.
Obuchowski's attorneys appealed. They argued that the trial judge had mis-applied precedent and failed to distinguish between a dismissal without prejudice and a dismissal with prejudice. The Court of Appeals agreed. It pointed out that while a dismissal "with prejudice" constitutes a final adjudication of liability, a dismissal "without prejudice" does not. Where an agent has been dismissed "with prejudice," that result is a binding decision of no liability that governs any claim against the principal, as well. Where, however, an agent is dismissed "without prejudice" the result is the same as if the agent was never sued to begin with. Since a victim is not required to sue an agent in order to claim damages against a principal for vicarious liability, the dismissal of an agent "without prejudice" does not justify dismissing the claim against the principal.