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No Negligent Credentialing Claim Against Staffing Agency

The Georgia Court of Appeals has held that an anesthesia staffing agency does not owe a legal duty to credential providers for an ambulatory surgery center. In so doing, the Court affirmed summary judgment on the claimant’s negligent credentialing claim.

Physician owned two companies that provided licensed anesthesia providers to ambulatory surgery centers. One of the companies supplied a CRNA to a pain care center. The patient’s husband sued the CRNA, the staffing companies, and the physician after the patient died following the administration of anesthesia at the pain clinic. Plaintiff alleged negligence, professional negligence, corporate negligence, imputed and vicarious liability, negligent hiring, credentialing, and retention, negligence per se, and failure to report the alleged negligence. The physician and the staffing companies moved for summary judgment on the negligent credentialing claim, among other things. The trial court granted the motion, ruling that the physician-owner and the staffing companies did not owe a legal duty of care to the patient for credentialing.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a claim for negligent credentialing applies only to hospitals and other healthcare “facilities,” as defined by both common-law and statute. Since the physician-owner and staffing companies did not fall into these categories, they did not owe a legal duty to credential the CRNA. In particular, the Court noted that healthcare facilities grant privileges to providers who treat patients at the facilities and the duty to credential arises out of that grant of privileges. Since staffing companies do not provide direct care to patients and do not run facilities or institutions, there is no duty of care.

As part of the reasoning, the Court reaffirmed the long-standing principle that the existence of a legal duty of care is a question of law for the Court. Plaintiff pointed to expert testimony about the existence of a legal duty, but the Court rejected this, writing “what duty a defendant owes is a question of legal policy to be decided as an issue of law” and “ an expert’s testimony does not, and cannot, create a legal duty where none existed before.”

Take-home:  This case is significant because of the substantial interplay between healthcare institutions and various corporate entities. In addition, the affirmative statement about the scope of expert testimony can have wide-reaching implications.

The case is Miller v. Polk, ___ S.E.2d __, 2024 WL 2825085 (Ga.Ct.App. June 4, 2024).