Who's Responsible for Patient Transportation Accident Injuries?
Is a hired driver an ASC's agent or independent contractor?
Published: November 14, 2012
A New Jersey appeals court will let a jury decide whether an ASC is liable for an auto accident caused by a limousine driver it hired to transport a colonoscopy patient home.
The Essex Surgery Center in Hackensack, N.J., had appealed a lower court's summary judgment ruling in favor of 2 injured motorists.
While the appeals court upheld the summary judgment's finding of negligence against the limo driver, it ordered the question of whether the driver was an agent of the surgery center or an independent contractor to be decided in a jury trial.
According to court records, the driver, Lazar Berezinsky, was transporting a patient from the Roseland (N.J.) Ambulatory Surgery Center (which shares some ownership and management with Essex) in June 2008. He inexplicably lost control of his Lincoln Town Car on Route 280 eastbound in Orange, N.J., and collided with a disabled car on the shoulder.
The owners of the disabled car, Felix and Judith Mangual, were injured in the collision, with Mr. Mangual suffering a broken leg and anterior meniscus tears in both legs, and Mrs. Mangual requiring the amputation of both legs below the knees.
As a pain management center, Essex provides transportation for all its patients in order to maintain its high-volume schedule. The center also dispatches and pays various limo drivers, working on the side, to transport patients to and from the multi-specialty Roseland ASC.
During the proceedings of their personal injury lawsuit early in 2012, the Manguals' argued for pre-trial judgment on the liability of Mr. Berezinsky and Essex, which the court granted.
The appeals court's July 2012 ruling agreed that there was no question of the driver's negligence in losing control of the car. It concluded, though, that the details of Essex's transportation arrangements and the intricacies of business law might variably convince a jury that Mr. Berezinsky was either a contract or independent employee. As a result, it ceded this question to a jury trial.
Attorney Thomas M. Mulcahy, who represents Essex, said a trial date has been set for January, but that mediation may be scheduled for December. He noted that the case presents a caution to surgical administrators: Be sure to ascertain the levels of maintenance and liability coverage that your contracted services maintain.
Mr. Berezinsky's attorney declined to comment. The Manguals' attorney was not immediately available to discuss the case.
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