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  • Surgeons are NOT liable for the Actions of a CRNA

    We all know that we are responsible for our own actions, and that under the law
    of negligence, this can include things that we do (“acts”) and things that we fail
    to do (“omissions”). We also know that we can sometimes be responsible, under
    the law, for the acts or omissions of others. For example, an employer may be
    liable to third parties for the acts or omissions of its employees. In the case
    of professional employees, an employer’s liability arises simply because of the
    employer-employee relationship.

    A surgeon who is not the employer of the anesthesia provider (CRNA or MD) is
    generally not liable for the acts or omissions of the CRNA/anesthesiologist. This
    is true even where the surgeon is “supervising” a CRNA for purposes of state
    licensure or reimbursement. This is because “supervise” in that context does
    not mean directing the CRNA as to the manner and means by which the CRNA
    administers anesthesia. In fact, a surgeon would almost never undertake to
    direct a CRNA in the provision of anesthesia services (and generally should not
    do so), simply because the training and experience of a CRNA in anesthesia will
    normally exceed that of the surgeon.

    The cases that have considered the question are uniform in their support.

    Cases that have held that a surgeon was not liable for the acts or omissions of a CRNA:

    • Glassman v. Costello, 267 Kan. 509, 523-524, 986 P.2d 1050, 1060-61
    (1999) (surgeon not liable for CRNA’s negligence).
    • Starcher v. Byrne, 687 So. 2d 737, 741-742 (Miss. 1997) (surgeon not liable
    for CRNA’s negligence).
    • Parker v. Vanderbilt, 767 S.W 2d 412, 415-416 (Tenn. App. 1988) (rejecting
    “captain of the ship” doctrine and finding surgeon not liable for CRNA’s
    • Fortson v. McNamara, 508 So. 2d 35, 37 (Fl. App. 1987) (surgeon not liable
    for CRNA’s negligence).
    • Pierre v. Lallie Kemp Charity Hospital, 515 So. 2d 614, 620-621 (La. App.
    1987) (surgeon not liable for CRNA’s negligence).
    • Hughes v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., 401 So. 2d 448, 450 (La.
    App. 1981) (surgeon not liable for CRNA’s negligence).
    • Sesselmon v. Mulenberg Hospital, 306 A. 2d 474, 475-477 (N.J. Super. Ct.,
    App. Div. 1954) (surgeon not liable for CRNA’s negligence).

    Cases in which a surgeon was sued for alleged anesthesia error when working with an anesthesiologist:

    • Sanchez v. Barba, 2011 WL 1105807 (Conn. Super. 2011) (defense verdict
    upheld in case involving injury to patient due to placement of esophageal
    • Chism v. Campbell, 250 Neb. 921, 553 N.W. 2d 741, 744-745 (1996)
    (summary judgment for surgeon and anesthesiologist).
    • Carolan v. Hill, 553 N.W. 2d 882 (Iowa 1996) (ulnar nerve injury; defense
    verdict remanded in part).
    • Robertson v. Hospital Corporation of America, 653 So. 2d 1265, 1266-
    1273 (La. App. 1995) (ulnar nerve damage; liability apportioned 72% to
    anesthesiologist, 20% to surgeon, 10% to hospital).
    • Szabo v. Bryn Mawr Hospital, 432 Pa. Super. 409; 638 A. 2d 1004,
    1006 (1994) (remanded for determination of surgeon’s control over
    • Adams v. Childrens Mercy Hospital, 848 S.W. 2d 535, 538 (Mo. App. 1993)
    (surgeon not liable for negligence of anesthesia resident under faculty
    • Brown v. Bozorgi, 234 Ill. App. 3d 972; 602 N.E. 2d 48, 51 (1992) (surgeon
    not liable for anesthesiologist’s negligence).
    • Franklin v. Gupta, 567 A. 2d 524, 539 (Md. Ct. App. 1990) (rejecting the
    “captain of the ship” doctrine; surgeon not liable for anesthesiologist or
    CRNA negligence).
    • Thomas v. Raleigh General Hospital, 358 S.E. 2d 222, 224-225 (W.Va. App.
    1987) (surgeon not liable for anesthesiologist or CRNA negligence).
    • Schneider v. Einstein Medical Center, 390 A. 2d 1271, 1277-1278
    (Penn. Super. 1978) (surgeon liable for failure to cancel procedure when
    anesthesiologist not able to intubate patient).
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. unconscious's Avatar
      unconscious -
      But this is not the whole story, though it's a very good one...there are cases demonstrating the exact opposite. It's all about the facts of the case (and the persuasiveness of plaintiffs counsel) and the amount of control exerted by anyone supervising CRNAs, or for that matter, anyone in the room when negligence is alleged.

    1. ADMIN's Avatar
      ADMIN -
      Agreed Jay

      However the KEY is control. Regardless if it is a CRNA or MDA that will be the determining factor for liability. Ergo, no more liability with a CRNA than an MDA.