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Georgia Court of Appeals Holds Supervising Physician is not Liable for Advanced Practice Provider

The Georgia Court of Appeals has held that a supervising physician is not automatically vicariously liable for the acts of an advanced practice provider. In Zeh v. Maso, plaintiff alleged that an anesthesiologist was vicariously liable for the purported negligence of a physician assistant. The patient died during an operation and alleged inadequate monitoring by the physician assistant. Plaintiff sued the physician assistant, the supervising physician, and the practice group that employed both. The supervising physician moved for summary judgment on vicarious liability and a motion to exclude expert testimony about vicarious liability. The trial court ruled that the physician could not be held vicariously liable on an actual agency theory, but could be held vicariously liable for the acts of the physician assistant under the statutory Physician Assistant Act.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Physician Assistant Act did not impose vicarious liability on supervising physician. The Court reasoned that the General Assembly’s enactment of the Physician Assistant Act only imposes “responsibility” and not “liability” on the supervising physician. Plaintiff argued on appeal that the terms are interchangeable but the Court held that there are no Georgia statutes that impose “liability” based solely on “responsibility.” Finally, the Court reasoned that existing Georgia law imposed legal liability on others based on employment, agency, and imputed negligence. Since the General Assembly is presumed to know the law when it passes a statute, the legislature could have imposed legal liability if it intended to do so.

The Court also held that the trial court did not err in denying a motion to exclude an expert opinion, holding that plaintiff’s anesthesiology expert was qualified and based their opinions on sufficient facts.

Take-home: we anticipate the case will be appealed further on the issue of vicarious liability. Note, the case only addresses physician assistants and not nurse practitioners, for which there is a separate statute. That statute also uses the term “responsibility” and not “legal liability.”

The case is Zeh v. Maso, ___ S.E.2d __, 2023 WL 2199877 (Ga.Ct.App. Feb. 24, 2023).