Sometimes it is a doctor in his private practice, other times it is a surgeon at the hospital that causes an error. When errors result in patient harm, patients may assume that the only party responsible is the doctor or medical staff that caused it.
There are various parties who could be held liable for your injuries. Negligence in a hospital setting is ordinary, and in some cases, it is not just the staff member, but the hospital that is liable for your damages.
Hospital liability is divided into two main types:
- Hospital Liability for Employees – In this type, the hospital is liable for the acts of their employees, including any negligence their employees do that cause injury. Therefore, under this theory, the hospital is liable for injuries caused by the negligence of doctors, nurses, administrators, and other healthcare professionals that they employ.
- Hospital’s Own Liability – The second type is where the hospital is liable for their own mistakes or acts of negligence. Such as negligent hiring or retention practices, failure to supervise, or failure to maintain equipment.
When are Hospitals Liable for the Negligence of their Employees?
A vast majority of physicians are not employees of the hospital where they work; instead, they are independent contractors. Some hospitals have physicians and nurses who are not contractors and are part of the regular staff. If the physician that injures you is part of the staff, then the hospital would be liable for any negligence of their employees – and you would be entitled to file a lawsuit against the hospital.
The Parties Involved in a Malpractice Suit Against the Hospital
Multiple people could be involved in a malpractice case involving a hospital. Realize that you can file a lawsuit against the party themselves, but also the hospital.
The people who could be involved include:
Most medical malpractice cases involve a physician. The physician’s negligence can occur in a variety of ways:
- Medical Misdiagnosis
- Negligence Involving Pregnancy or Childbirth
- Prescribing Errors or Medication Errors
- Surgical Errors
When a physician is an employee of the hospital, and their negligent act leads to serious injury, the hospital would be liable, but also the physician.
There is one issue when it comes to holding physician responsible: contractor status. Your attorney would need to review the employment agreement between the doctor and the hospital. In many cases, physicians are not employees; instead, they work as contractors for the hospital.
Nurses have their duty of care owed to the patient. While a nurse might not oversee the patient’s care plan or medical treatments, they take on tasks that contribute to their overall health and well-being. A nurse might be in charge of monitoring a patient’s vitals, administering medication, or feeding the patient to ensure proper nutrition.
Mistakes from the nursing staff can vary, but may include:
- Failure to monitor a patient’s vitals
- Failure to monitor the patient’s overall health
- Forgetting to take timed vitals
- Not inputting information into the patient’s chart
- Administering the wrong medication
- Administering the wrong amount of the medication
- Administering medications at the wrong time or accidentally administering too much of a dose
- Not repositioning and checking immobile patients for bed sores
- Failing to report any symptoms or medical concerns to the doctor
- Failing to respond to patient calls or requests
Any of the above may be considered negligence. Most of the time, nurses are employed by the hospital directly; therefore, you are unlikely to encounter the independent contractor issues that you would with a physician.
Hospitals employ therapists for rehabilitative services, massage, and physical therapy. Sometimes therapists work in mental health too. These therapists might work as employees or independent contractors and could cause injury from their negligence.
For example, a physical therapist ignores physician orders and pushes a patient with their rehabilitative treatments – causing further injury.
Is the Hospital Liable for Independent Contractors?
Some hospitals purposely skirt liability by using only independent contractors for physicians, nurses, and even therapists. If the party who caused your injury is a contractor and not an employee, you may wonder what options you have for filing a lawsuit and receiving compensation.
Unfortunately, this is a very complicated issue. Your attorney will have to review the terms of the employment agreement, specifically looking to see how much control the hospital had over the employee working there – including job conditions, hours, and performance. Even if the doctor is classified as an independent contractor if the hospital has too much control over them it can be classified as an employee-employer relationship.
Examining the Hospital’s Negligence
Suing a hospital for direct negligence typically involves the hospitals negligent hiring, supervision, and retention practices. They may also be held liable when they fail to maintain, upgrade, or repair equipment.
Areas, where hospitals can be directly responsible for patient injuries or death, include:
Hospitals must ensure that the people they hire for their facility are qualified, experienced and ready to care for their patients. If they fail to verify if a healthcare provider is licensed, insured, or hire individuals with criminal backgrounds or a history of causing injury, they could be liable for any future injuries caused by that staff member.
The same goes for negligent retention practices. Hospitals should take any patient complaints seriously, review their employees’ abilities, conduct training, and make sure the staff the keep on hand are still safe and qualified to work in their facility. If they know of an employee that is using unsafe practices, they should either retrain or terminate. A hospital that knowingly keeps a dangerous employee on staff is just as liable as a hospital reckless with their hiring practices.
Poor or Lack of Maintenance for Hospital Equipment
Hospital equipment is designed to last for several months to years, but it gets its use in. Busier hospitals may find that they must repair or replace their equipment more frequently. Hospitals are required to check, inspect, repair, and maintain equipment continually. This includes everything from an MRI machine to wheelchairs to hospital beds. Any failure to repair or replace outdated or broken equipment could lead to a serious injury, and the hospital could be directly liable for those injuries.
Hospitals are required to keep their hospital sanitary, that includes ensuring operating rooms, treatment rooms, and any equipment used to treat a patient has not been contaminated. The cost of keeping a hospital clean is expensive, and some hospitals may try to cut corners on cleaning operating suites, sanitizing operating equipment, or even changing linens and washing them properly. When diseases are spread, or infections arise from these actions, the hospital can be directly liable for any injuries or illnesses that they might cause.
The Legal Elements Required to File Your Medical Malpractice Claim against a Hospital
Anyone who is injured by a hospital’s negligence, whether directly or indirectly, can hold that hospital and the provider responsible for their injuries. To do so, however, the victim must prove four essential components, which include:
The Duty of Care Existed
Hospitals owe all patients admitted into their facility a duty of care. The law requires the hospital to do so, but also admit any patient that comes to their facility with an apparent emergency – regardless of their ability to pay.
Doctors on duty also have an obligation to all patients to ensure that they receive the best care to their abilities – including training and experience.
Medical malpractice by the doctor or hospital is based on professional malpractice. Therefore, the standard of acceptable care is higher than it would be for the average person. A hospital must have policies and procedures in place to ensure they provide the best possible care to all patients in their facility. If they fall below the standard of what other hospitals and providers would provide, they can be held liable for any injuries caused.
Note that the duty only extends to those who are patients. If you are injured outside of the hospital by another cause, the hospital is not guilty of malpractice.
Breach of Duty
Once you establish there is a duty of care owed to you, because you are a patient, you must then show that the duty was breached. This might be anything from a hospital-acquired infection to misdiagnosis by a physician to improper care received.
The Breach Caused Your Injuries
You must tie the breach of duty to your injuries or illness to receive compensation. If the breach of duty had nothing to do with how you were injured, then you cannot sue the hospital or physician for your injuries.
Even if there is an incident that occurred because of the negligence of a hospital or provider, you must still prove you had damages. If there are no damages, there is no reason to file your lawsuit. The purpose of a lawsuit is to recover your damages – and hopefully make yourself financially whole.
Hiring a Malpractice Attorney is Best
If you were injured in a hospital by a physician or direct negligence of the hospital, it is best to consult with an attorney. An attorney can better assess which party is at fault and work to retrieve the compensation you deserve.