People - like doctors and nurses - aren't the only ones who can be sued for medical malpractice. In some cases, it's possible to sue the hospital or other health care facility where you received medical treatment. This may happen when you were injured because of:
- Hospital negligence, or
- Negligence by a hospital employee, staff member or someone else the hospital was responsible for
Medical malpractice cases are complicated to begin with, even more so when a hospital is sued. Typically, their insurance carriers fight very hard because of the amount of money at stake. It's important that you have a good understanding of when a hospital might be sued, and ask your attorney if you have any questions.
In simple terms, "negligence" is when someone does something improperly, or fails to do something he was supposed to do, and you're injured because of it. For example, if I run a red light and collide with your car, I'm negligent for not stopping at the light. Generally, I'm responsible for any damages to your car and any personal injury you suffer.
A hospital can be negligent, too. If a hospital doesn't do what it's supposed to do or do it properly, it may be liable if you're injured by its action or inaction. There may be liability for:
- The failure to make sure hospital staff has required education, training and licenses
- Not making sure that non-employees working in the hospital, such as independent contractors, have the proper credentials. An "attending physician" is a good example of an independent contractor working at a hospital
- Not having enough staff, such as nurses and technicians, to ensure proper patient care
- Not keeping proper patient records, or losing them
This is by no means a complete list. If you've been injured while in the care of a hospital or health care facility, talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
Respondeat superior is Latin for "let the master or superior answer." It makes an employer liable for an employee's negligence while doing his job. It's also called "vicarious liability."
For example, say you're a delivery driver for your employer, an office supply store. While making deliveries, you run a red light and collide with another car, injuring the other driver. Under the theory of respondeat superior, your employer may be held liable for your negligence and the other driver's injury.
The same may be true for a hospital. It may have dozens or hundreds of employees. If one of them is negligent and you're harmed, the hospital may be responsible. Liability could result if:
- A nurse or technician gives you the wrong medication or an improper dose of the correct medicine
- A nurse doesn't follow your physician's treatment plan or instructions
- A surgical team member leaves an object in your body after surgery, like a sponge or medical instrument
- You develop an infection if staff fails to properly dress and treat wounds
- You're given an anesthesia or drug that hospital staff knew, or should have known after a proper investigation, would cause you problems, like a severe allergic reaction
Again, this isn't a complete list. And, because the key to vicarious liability is the employee-employer relationship, hospitals often claim that the person who caused your injury is an independent contractor and not its employee. An experienced lawyer can help you with these things.
Why Go after the Hospital
Victims of medical malpractice are entitled to money damages or "compensation" for things like medical bills, pain and suffering and lost wages. As a practical matter, a medical professional may not have enough money to cover all of your damages. The hospital's insurance carrier usually does, though.
Yet, a successful medical malpractice suit against the hospital does more than help to make sure you get the damages you deserve. It also helps make sure the hospital takes steps to prevent the same mistake from happening to another patient.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How can you tell if a doctor is an employee of a hospital or an independent contractor?
- I live in New Jersey, the hospital where I was treated is in Delaware, and the doctor who treated me lives in Maryland. Where should I file a medical malpractice suit? Can I file separate suits against the doctor and hospital?
- Can we still sue the doctor if the hospital offers to settle my case?