If you have suffered an injury while you were receiving treatment in a hospital, your first instinct might be to sue the hospital for negligence. However, the hospital isn’t always legally liable, especially if it was the doctor who was responsible for the medical malpractice. Generally, if inadequate care was provided by a hospital employee such as a paramedic or a nurse, then the hospital may be liable but it’s much more complicated when it comes to doctors. So, let’s look at exactly when the hospital is responsible and when it isn’t.
Hospitals are Responsible for the Actions of their Employees
If a person is a hospital employee and they hurt a patient due to their incompetence, then the hospitable is liable for their conduct. Note that the error has to be considered negligence for the hospital to be liable and not every mistake is considered as such.
Generally, medical technicians, nurses and paramedics are considered to be employees of the hospital. If the patient was injured while the employee was doing something related to their job, then the patient can sue the hospital. For example, if you are in an ambulance and the paramedic injects you with the wrong medicine leading to a much more severe issue than you had, then the hospital is legally liable for the paramedic’s error.
On the other hand, if you suffer injuries while being treated by a doctor in the hospital, the hospital will only be responsible if the doctor is employed by the hospital, which is relatively rare. Most doctors aren’t hospital employees and are, in fact, independent contractors, which means the hospital is not liable for any malpractice, even if it occurred within the facility. Of course, some doctors are hospital employees, in which case the hospital decides how much the doctor can charge and also sets his or her working hours and vacation time.
If the doctor is an independent contractor and a hospital employee commits a negligent act while the doctor is supervising, you may sue the doctor but it’s unlikely the hospital will be held responsible. This depends on whether the doctor was there when the deed occurred and if the doctor could do anything to prevent the problem from occurring. For example, if a nurse makes a mistake in counting the surgical sponges and, as a result, the doctor leaves a sponge inside you, then you can sue the doctor.
Exceptions for Independent Doctors
If the hospital didn’t make it clear that the doctor wasn’t a hospital employee, then you could sue the hospital for any medical malpractice the doctor committed. Hospitals try to get around this issue by making sure the admission forms clearly state that the doctor isn’t a hospital employee, but things are different in the emergency room where hospitals can’t inform patients of the legal status of the doctor. This is why ER patients can often sue the hospital if they were injured in the emergency room.
In some states, the hospital will be held responsible if an incompetent or dangerous doctor is kept on staff, even as an independent contractor. The hospital is also held liable if they were aware that a doctor had become dangerous.
Since medical malpractice suits are subject to complex rules, it’s usually best to acquire advice from a lawyer on how to proceed. At Makarem & Associates, we have attorneys who have a lot of experience with medical malpractice suits who can advise you on which direction to take, so call us at 310.312.0299 or email us at [email protected] so we can review your case.