Updated June 27, 2020
When you seek medical care at a hospital, you expect that the doctors, nurses, and staff are qualified and capable. More often than not, they are. But when a hospital professional makes a mistake resulting in a completely avoidable injury or illness, you may have the right to file a negligence suit.
But who is responsible for your injury: the individual or the employer?
Hospitals can be negligent in their actions just like individuals or other entities can be, and this negligence leads to medical malpractice cases. However, whether you can sue the hospital depends on the circumstances of your case.
In general, hospitals are liable for employee negligence. They are responsible for the actions of any member of their staff that might have resulted in a patient’s injuries while performing job-related responsibilities. For medical malpractice law, staff members often include paramedics, nurses, medical technicians, and other hospital employees and support staff—and usually not doctors, who tend to be independent contractors. In general, an employee is someone whose working hours, vacation time, and any fees they charge are set by the hospital where they work.
However, it’s possible for a hospital to be liable for the actions of a non-employee. If the hospital presents the treating physician as an employee and doesn’t make it clear to the patient that they’re not, they could be liable for their mistakes. This situation is true of cases like emergency room doctors, where there usually isn’t time to make sure that the patients are properly informed of the doctor’s employment status.
Hospitals can also be held liable for giving staff privileges to a doctor who didn’t deserve them. For example, if they hired a doctor who is addicted to drugs and makes a mistake while under the influence. In cases where an incompetent or dangerous doctor is kept on staff, a safe doctor has become incompetent or dangerous and the hospital should have known about the change, or if proper screening procedures weren’t followed in the process of granting staff privileges, the hospital itself could be liable for the damage they do regardless of their employment status.
Not all medical malpractice cases that happen at a hospital are necessarily the hospital’s responsibility, and there are times when they’re not liable for events that occur on their premises. Most doctors are independent contractors and not technically employees of the hospitals where they work, which means the hospital is not considered liable or negligent and lawsuits must be pursued against the doctor directly.
The line gets blurred further when the employees are working under the supervision of a doctor. If the doctor is an independent contractor and an employee makes a mistake on their watch, the doctor rather than the hospital is liable: They have assumed responsibility for the employee’s actions during the course of treatment, and if the doctor is in control of the situation and present at the time, they are responsible.
Mistakes happen in medicine, but that doesn’t mean that negligence should be tolerated. It’s important to hold healthcare providers accountable for the decisions that they make in your care, whether they’re individual doctors or entire hospitals. Whether it’s making a mistake in your prescription, not paying close enough attention to who they employee, or otherwise not taking appropriate actions in an emergency, hospitals and other healthcare providers need to be held responsible for how they treat their patients.
If you or a loved one have been a victim of a medical malpractice, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.
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