Washington Medical Malpractice Injury: Who Might Be Liable?

Potential defendants in Washington State medical malpractice cases can run the full gamut. In fact, according to one legal expert, potential defendants include hospitals, general practice to specialty physicians – from family care physicians to neurosurgeons, physicians’ assistants, nurses – even nurses’ assistants in a hospital, nursing home or rehabilitation setting. So, who might be liable for your injuries?

Look for the license

Matt Menzer, a Washington medical malpractice lawyer who’s been practicing law and representing plaintiffs for over 20 years in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death and other areas, says that basically anyone whose profession requires any type of license or certificate or training as a health care provider can be a potential defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit. He explained:

Quite often in hospital cases, you not only have nursing staff who work with the doctors, but also people that work behind the scenes. You can have a radiologist who misses a diagnosis, a fracture or a problem on an x-ray, or lab workers who misread a tissue or blood sample. So you can have defendants from really top to bottom and backwards and forwards in terms of the various providers that are a part of that treatment team.

While the surgical cases are sometimes the most dramatic, in my experience, malpractice cases come from many other areas or other parts of a person’s medical care or treatment. It can be a cancer diagnosis that was missed over a period of time through a couple of different clinical or family practice providers. It can be a failure to diagnose some medical condition which could be a combination of a radiologist who missed something and a doctor who didn’t follow up afterward.

A lawyer will try to figure out who all the responsible parties are. Menzer says that while the injured party will often have a pretty good idea that something went wrong or an error was made, the identities of all the responsible parties may not be revealed until all the medical records have been reviewed and evaluated. Those parties might include doctors, physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, chiropractors, EMTs and many other medical professional and health care providers, including hospitals, HMOs, clinics and pharmacies.

Finding defendants

We asked Menzer how his firm deals with finding defendants who may have moved, changed employment or passed on. He told us that these aren't really serious issues:

It’s not a problem if the doctor has changed employment or moved. The liability doesn’t change if they’re still in practice or not. You can sue a doctor in the State of Washington who’s since moved and is practicing in another state or has retired and is now living on Maui – or anywhere else. The court will still have jurisdiction. It’s possible that you could end up in federal court on grounds of diversity jurisdiction, but that is unlikely.

If the doctor or the other health care provider is deceased, you may end up suing the person’s estate, or if that person had insurance and the insurance coverage has continued past the period of time the malpractice occurred, that insurer will have to provide that coverage in the same fashion as when the doctor was still alive.