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Who can be liable for hospital medical malpractice?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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When a patient seeks treatment at a hospital, the hospital itself becomes responsible for the care that the patient receives. This means that if a patient receives inadequate or unprofessional care from a hospital employee, the hospital may be liable for medical malpractice. If hospital policy contributes to or causes a patient injury, the hospital can also be considered liable for hospital malpractice.

Who Can You Sue for Hospital Malpractice?

Hospital malpractice lawsuits may be filed against a hospital directly. Hospitals may be public or private entities and may, in some cases, be organized as a corporation. Because they are considered separate legal entity in the eyes of the law, the hospital itself can be named as a defendant.

In some cases, a doctor or health care provider at a hospital may also be sued in conjunction with the hospital. For instance, if a doctor is an employee of a hospital and provides you with substandard care, you may name two defendants in the lawsuit: the hospital and the doctor. The two defendants could then be considered jointly and severally liable for paying your damages, which means they may each pay a portion of the damages awarded to you or either can be made to individually pay the whole damage award.

How Does Hospital Malpractice Occur?

There are two different legal theories that support a claim for hospital malpractice:

Vicarious liability. This legal doctrine allows you to hold the hospital responsible if its employees are negligent or careless. If an employee, such as a doctor, nurse, or orderly, is acting within the scope of his or her employment (providing you the medical care he or she was hired to provide) then the hospital can be responsible when that employee makes a careless error. If the doctor or healthcare provider is not a hospital employee but is instead an independent contractor (like a surgeon with operating privileges at the hospital but not actually working for the hospital) then vicarious liability does not apply.

Negligence. A hospital may also be held responsible for its own negligence. A hospital can be negligent if it fails to have reasonable procedures in place to ensure patient safety. This may mean not verifying the qualifications of employees or not having proper maintenance and sanitation procedures in place. Understaffing the hospital and/or not ensuring there are a reasonable number of registered nurses on staff can also be examples of hospital negligence.

When Can You Sue for Hospital Malpractice?

In order to hold a hospital responsible for malpractice, you must prove four things:

  • That a duty was owed. This may be the duty of the hospital, in the case of hospital negligence, or the duty of the health care worker in the case of vicarious liability.
  • That the duty was breached. The healthcare provider may breach the duty by providing care below the level which is expected of a professional in his position. The hospital may also breach the duty by not providing the level of care and safety to a patient that a reasonable hospital in its position would provide.
  • That the breach caused you to suffer harm. For instance, you can prove that your injury or illness would not have occurred or would not have been as severe if the hospital had been more careful.
  • That actual financial loss occurred. This may be in the form of incurred medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering endured, or emotional distress caused by the hospital's lapse.

While you can recover your damages by proving these elements in a civil suit, many hospital malpractice claims also settle outside of court.

To learn more about who can be liable for hospital negligence and how to recover your damages, contact an experienced attorney who specializes in hospital malpractice.

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