In Hannon v. Siegel-Cooper Co., 167 N.Y. 244, 60 N.E. 597, 52 A.L.R. 429, a customer patronized a dentist who was maintained as a part of the store's service to its customers; he was, however, not an employee, but a tenant.Summary of this case from Maloney Tank Mfg. v. Mid-Continent Petroleum
Argued April 26, 1901
Decided June 4, 1901
Gibson Putzel for appellant. Charles Haldane and Abraham Levy for respondent.
The complaint charged that the defendant, a corporation, conducting a department store in the city of New York, represented and advertised itself as carrying on the practice of dentistry in one of its departments; that the plaintiff employed the defendant to render the necessary professional labor in the treatment of her teeth and paid therefor; that the defendant's servant performed said work so carelessly, negligently and unskillfully that plaintiff's jaws and gums were injured, for which malpractice she claimed damages. The answer in substance was a general denial. Plaintiff had a verdict at the Trial Term and the judgment on that verdict has been unanimously affirmed by the Appellate Division.
The Public Health Law by section 164 makes it a misdemeanor for any person to practice or to hold himself out to the public as practicing dentistry in any county in this state without being licensed to practice as such and registered in the office of the clerk of the county, and it would seem that the action of the defendant in assuming to carry on the business of dentistry was illegal and ultra vires. But though it was beyond the corporate powers of the defendant to engage in the business this does not relieve it from the torts of its servants committed therein ( Bissell v. Mich. Southern R.R. Co., 22 N.Y. 258) and the unanimous affirmance of the Appellate Division is conclusive to the effect that it either practiced dentistry or held itself out as practicing dentistry. The only question cognizable by us arises upon the appellant's exception to the following charge of the trial court: "If the defendants in this case made representation to the plaintiff, on which she relied, that they were conducting a against business in their store, and if she, because of those representations, hired the workman in the store of the defendants, with no knowledge that the business was conducted by Mr. Hayes individually, you may find the defendants responsible for the acts of the dentist who treated the plaintiff, even though Mr. Hayes, as a matter of fact, was the real owner of that department of the defendants' store." The appellant's counsel does not deny the general doctrine that a person is estopped from denying his liability for the conduct of one whom he holds out as his agent against persons who contract with him on the faith of the apparent agency, but he insists that the doctrine does not apply to the present case, because the action is brought in tort and not on contract. It may very well be that where the duty, the violation of which constitutes the tort sued for, springs from no contract with, nor relation to, the principal, a party would not be estopped from denying that the wrongdoer was his agent, even though he had held him out as such. In such a case the representation of the principal would be no factor in producing the injury complained of. But whenever the tort consists of a violation of a duty which springs from the contract between the parties, the ostensible principal should be liable to the same extent in an action ex delicto as in one ex contractu. It is urged that the representation that the operating dentists were the defendant's servants did not mislead the plaintiff to her injury and, therefore, should not estop the defendant from asserting the truth. There is no force in this claim. If A contracts with the ostensible agent of B for the purchase of goods, he relies not only on the business reputation of B, as to the goods he manufactures or sells, but on the pecuniary responsibility of B to answer for any default in carrying out the contract. So here the plaintiff had a right to rely not only on the presumption that the defendant would employ a skillful dentist as its servant, but also on the fact that if that servant, whether skillful or not, was guilty of any malpractice, she had a responsible party to answer therefor in damages.
The judgment appealed from should be affirmed, with costs.
O'BRIEN, BARTLETT, MARTIN, VANN and LANDON, JJ., concur; PARKER, Ch. J., takes no part.