It Doesn’t Take a Scalpel to Pierce Your Medical Practice’s “Corporate Veil”

As “Captain Obvious” would no doubt note: doctors get sued. Medical malpractice lawsuits are filed every day in which a patient alleges that a physician failed to adhere to the appropriate standard of care. But doctors get sued for other reasons and by folks other than those they treat. Medicine is a business as well as a profession, and like other businessmen and women, doctors can get sued by people or entities they do business with, including the government.

That is one of many reasons physicians form medical corporations, limited liability companies, or professional service corporations. These specialized entities can shield the personal assets of physicians who act as officers, directors, or shareholders when lawsuits by creditors or other liabilities confront their business. But that protection is not absolute, and doctors can find their personal assets in the crosshairs of a determined litigant if they fail to adhere to the requisite “standard of care” in managing their entity.

“Piercing the Corporate Veil”

“Piercing the corporate veil” is the term used to describe imposing personal liability on a company’s owner(s) for a corporate obligation. Plaintiffs often attempt to pierce the corporate veil when the company they are suing is insolvent or would be otherwise unable or unlikely to pay any judgment entered against it.

Veil-piercing allows a court to “impose liability on an individual or entity that uses a corporation merely as an instrumentality to conduct that individual’s or entity’s business.” Fontana v. TLD Builders, Inc., 362 Ill. App. 3d 491, 500 (2005)

Illinois courts use a two-prong test to determine whether to pierce the corporate veil:

  1. there must be such unity of interest and ownership that the separate personalities of the corporation and the individual no longer exist; and
  2. circumstances must exist such that adherence to the fiction of a separate corporate existence would sanction a fraud, promote injustice, or promote inequitable consequences.”

In determining whether the “unity of interest and ownership” prong of the test is met for a medical business entity, a court will consider many factors, including:

  • inadequate capitalization;
  • insolvency;
  • failure to follow corporate formalities
  • commingling of funds;
  • diversion of assets from the entity by or to a member to the detriment of creditors;
  • failure to maintain arm’s-length relationships among related entities; and
  • whether, in fact, the entity is a mere facade for the operation of the dominant members.

Medical Entities Do Not Shield Doctors from Malpractice Liability

While a properly organized and managed entity can protect a doctor’s personal assets from creditors and business-related claims, it affords no such protection against medical malpractice claims. The Illinois Medical Corporation Act specifically provides that it “does not alter any law applicable to the relationship between a physician furnishing medical service and a person receiving such service, including liability arising out of such service.”

Similarly, the Illinois Professional Service Corporation Act states that physician officers, shareholders, or directors “remain personally and fully liable and accountable for any negligent or wrongful acts or misconduct committed by him, or by any ancillary personnel or person under his direct supervision and control, while rendering professional services on behalf of the corporation to the person for whom such professional services were being rendered.”

If you are a physician who has an interest in an Illinois medical practice, it is critical that you understand that the protections afforded to your assets aren’t set in stone just because you formed a corporate entity. I work closely with physicians and their entities to implement programs and protocols designed to minimize risks, including the risk of personal liability for their business obligations. If you need assistance with your medical practice’s legal obligations, please give me a call at 312-236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation.

Medical Corporations are Licensees Too, My Friend

Even though individual licensed physicians, not a corporate entity, are the ones doing the diagnosing, treating, and healing, the entity still must be licensed by the IDFPR. There are three main types of medical entities that Illinois physicians can form: a medical corporation, a limited liability company, and a professional corporation. In a medical corporation or professional corporation that provides medical services, only licensed physicians may be shareholders, directors and officers.

In Illinois, physicians may also practice medicine through a limited liability company so long as the managers and each member are licensed to practice medicine under the Illinois Medical Practice Act or a member or manager is a registered Illinois professional corporation, medical corporation or appropriately structured and licensed limited liability company.

Medical Corporations

Under the Illinois Medical Corporation Act, no corporation shall open, operate or maintain an establishment involving the delivery of medical services in the state without a license issued by IDFPR. All medical corporation licenses expire on December 31 of each year regardless of the date on which IDFPR issued the license and must be renewed every year.

It is important to note that IDFPR can revoke or suspend the corporation’s license for numerous reasons, including:

  • the revocation or suspension of the license to practice medicine of any officer, director, shareholder or employee not promptly removed or discharged by the corporation;
  • unethical professional conduct on the part of any officer, director, shareholder or employee not promptly removed or discharged by the corporation;
  • the death of the last remaining shareholder; or
  • upon finding that the holder of a certificate has failed to comply with the provisions of this Act or the regulations prescribed by the Department.

Medical corporation owners therefore need to be cognizant about how any individual physician’s disciplinary issues may impact the corporation’s license status.

Limited Liability Companies

Licensed Illinois physicians can also form a limited liability corporation (LLC) to provide professional services, and the LLC must be licensed by IDFPR  just like a medical corporation.

While the owners of a medical corporation can be licensed for different medical professions, all members and managers of LLCs providing any of the following professional services must be licensed for the same profession:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Dentistry
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • Medicine

Professional Service Corporations

Licensed Illinois professionals who perform the same or “related professional services” may form a professional service corporation. “Related professional services” include a combination of personal services by physicians, podiatric physicians, dentists, and optometrists licensed in Illinois. Only licensed individuals engaged in the same or related professions may be shareholders, directors, or officers in the corporation. All Illinois professional service corporations must be licensed by IDFPR.

Entities which lose their license cannot continue to legal offer medical services. If they continue to do so, it could cause problems for the individual physician/owners. Not only may they be subject to disciplinary action, but the failure to follow the law could theoretically contribute to a physician’s personal exposure for the entity’s obligations or liabilities if a plaintiff attempts to “pierce the corporate veil.”

In our next post, we will discuss how issues other than licensing can cause headaches for medical entity owners who fail to comply with the formalities and requirements that apply to the operation of their entities.

Louis Fine: Chicago Medical License Defense Attorney

Whether it is your personal license or your entity’s license that is in IDFPR’s crosshairs, please contact me.  I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.