Palos Community Hospital’s clear and repeated notices that doctors are contractors, not employees, proved the undoing of a man’s medical malpractice suit, even though he claimed he could not read the notices.
A Cook County circuit judge had granted the hospital summary judgment in the case, and a state appeals court upheld the ruling on May 9.
The plaintiff, Saleh Mizyed, was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room in 2009, when he had a heart attack. According to court documents, Mizyed speaks Arabic and only a little broken English, and cannot read or write in any language. He was accompanied to the hospital by his adult daughter, who speaks and reads English fluently.
Mizyed testified that he signed a series of hospital consent forms after his daughter read them and told him what they were. His daughter testified that she had skimmed the forms, not read them in depth, but seeing that they granted consent for treatment, she told him to sign them.
Two days after his heart attack, Mizyed underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. Two days after the surgery, he underwent a procedure to insert a cardiac catheter. In the days after that procedure, he developed an infection, which was treated with antibiotics. A week after the procedure, he was released, with a prescription for another round of antibiotics.
According to court documents, the evening he was released, Mizyed became so ill his family called an ambulance which took him to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Park. He remained there for several days while the infection was treated and continued to receive daily antibiotic injections for several weeks.
Mizyed filed a medical malpractice complaint against Palos alleging that agents or employees of the hospital had been negligent in treating his infection and had discharged him too soon. In an amendment, he later named Dr. Mary Kanashiro, his attending physician at Palos, in the complaint.
In granting summary judgment in favor of the hospital, the circuit court noted the five consent forms Mizyed signed. According to court documents, each of the forms contained this paragraph: “I understand that all physicians providing services to me, including emergency room physicians, radiologists, pathologists, anesthesiologists, my attending physician and all physician consultants, are independent medical staff physicians and not employees or agents of Palos Community Hospital.”
In his complaint, Mizyed argued that Palos could not rely on any of the consent forms to support summary judgment because of his limited English and his inability to read. He claimed it was the hospital’s obligation to make sure he understood the forms.
“Notably, Mizyed does not identify any cases holding that a non-English speaking or illiterate patient cannot be held to the terms of a consent form that he signs,” the court wrote. “…There was no duty on the hospital’s part to determine Mizyed’s education or to ensure his subjective understanding of the English language consent forms. The hospital need only show that … Mizyed had been placed on notice regarding the relationship between his treating physicians and the hospital.”
According to the court, the testimony that Mizyed’s daughter had reviewed the forms and encouraged him to sign further strengthened the hospital’s position. Even though she testified she had not read the forms thoroughly before encouraging her father to sign, there was no reason for the hospital to think Mizyed did not understand that his attending physician was not a hospital agent or employee.
“Mizyed’s arguments ignore the long-standing principle that one who signs a document is charged with knowledge of its contents, regardless of whether he or she actually read the document,” the justices wrote.
The justices said if there was some evidence that Kanashiro had been “held out” as an agent of the hospital or represented that way, the consent forms alone may not have warranted summary judgment, but no such evidence had been admitted.
The opinion was authored by Justice Joy V. Cunningham, with justices Sheldon A. Harris and Maureen E. Connors concurring.
Mizyed was represented by attorneys with the firm of Muslin & Sandberg, of Chicago.
Palos Community Hospital was defended by the firm of Pretzel & Stouffer, of Chicago.