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Burless v. West Virginia University of Hospitals, Inc.

Supreme Court of West Virginia
601 S.E.2d 85 (2004)


Facts

Jaclyn Burless (plaintiff) was referred to West Virginia University Hospital (WVUH) (defendant) to undergo an ultrasound procedure as part of her prenatal care. Burless signed a consent form that stated the physicians working at WVUH were not employees of the hospital. A few months later, Burless experienced high blood pressure and edema and returned to WVUH and was treated at the facility’s High Risk Clinic on-site. Burless gave birth to a daughter who, shortly thereafter, experienced seizures and suffered a stroke. Burless filed a negligence action alleging that the physicians and hospital were negligent in failing to monitor her labor and delivery, which caused severe and permanent mental, neurological, and psychological injuries to her daughter. Burless asserted that WVUH was vicariously liable on an apparent agency theory for the negligent actions of the physicians. WVUH moved for summary judgment on the basis that no apparent relationship existed, which the court granted.. Melony Pritt (plaintiff) complained of pain in her lower right abdomen at the WVUH emergency room. Upon examination, it was determined that she was nine-weeks pregnant and had a cyst on her left ovary. Pritt signed a consent form similar to the one signed by Burless stating that the physicians working at WVUH were not employees of the hospital. During the operation to remove the cyst, the cyst broke open and fluid leaked into her pelvic cavity. The surgeon did not irrigate the site nor did he prescribe Pritt antibiotics. Pritt suffered a severe abdominal infection that caused premature labor. As a result, her son was born with severe permanent mental, neurological, and psychological injuries. Pritt similarly sued WVUH on an apparent agency theory that it was liable for the negligent acts of the physicians. The court granted WVUH’s motion for summary judgment. Both Burless and Pritt appealed. The state supreme court consolidated Burless and Pritt’s cases for the purposes of rendering a decision.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Davis, J.)

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