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The Missouri Legislature Narrows the Scope of Liability for Hospitals and Other Health Care Providers

| Oct 18, 2017 | News |

On May 12, 2017, Governor Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 237 into law. The new law includes a definition for the term “employee” and repeals the definition of “physician employee”.  This definitional change affects causes of action for damages against health care providers for personal injury or death.

The amendments are designed to provide a statutory definition of “employee” and eliminate liability based on common law principles of agency from the medical negligence setting. The changes appear to be adopted in response to the Court of Appeals’ holding in Jefferson ex rel. Jefferson v. Missouri Baptist Medical Center, 447 S.W.3d 701 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). In Jefferson, the Missouri Court of Appeals discussed the statutory framework applicable to claims against healthcare providers and their employees.  The Court found that the then-current version of § 538.210 did not provide a specific definition for the term “employee.” The Court of Appeals rejected the hospital’s argument that Chapter 538’s definition of “physician employee” should be applied to § 538.210.  Because a statutory definition was not provided, the Court resorted to common-law principles of agency to determine whether the defendant was an “employee” of Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

As amended, § 538.205(3) now defines “employee” as “any individual who is directly compensated by a health care provider for health care services rendered by such individual and other nonphysician individuals who are supplied to a health care provider by an entity that provides staffing.” In addition,
§ 538.210.4 provides “[n]o health care provider whose liability is limited by the provisions of this chapter shall be liable to any plaintiff based on the actions or omissions of any other entity or person who is not an employee of such health care provider.”

Senate Bill 237 became law effective August 28, 2017.  No appellate court in Missouri has interpreted the amendments to §§ 538.205 and 538.210 and the application of the new language to lawsuits post-Jefferson remains unclear. However, based on the new language contained in § 538.205, absent evidence of direct compensation to an individual providing health care services on behalf of the health care provider, § 538.210 appears to preclude a plaintiff from recovering against the health care provider due to the actions or omissions of that individual.