In general, hospital lawsuits are personal injury lawsuits arising from injuries suffered by a patient. Those injuries are usually based on negligence, or a failure to use reasonable care which results in the damage or injury of another person. Negligence is based on a person’s failure to do something, rather than their actual actions. However, lawsuits against hospitals may involve various legal claims and theories besides negligence.
Lawsuits involving hospitals are most commonly related to some sort of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice refers to the negligence of a healthcare professional resulting in the injury of a patient with whom they have, or previously had, a professional relationship. Under the corporate negligence doctrine, the hospital itself may be held responsible for a mistake made by a doctor or other staff employed by the hospital.
Lawsuits could also involve hospital-wide policies that fall below state medical standards. Medical malpractice liability can often involve more than one party, and may be split between both a doctor and a nurse whose negligence caused the patient’s injury. Depending on the circumstances, hospital lawsuits may involve a large number of patients affected by the same negligence, which would then turn the claim into a class action lawsuit.
Hospital lawsuits are different from malpractice suits against an individual doctor, as proceeding in the lawsuit against a corporation is different than suing an individual. For example, when initiating a lawsuit against an individual, you may serve them directly with your lawsuit. However, when initiating a lawsuit against a corporation or hospital you will often have to find their registered agent first, and serve that individual with the lawsuit.
What Are Some Examples of a Hospital Lawsuit?
Lawsuits are filed against hospitals for a wide variety of reasons. As previously mentioned, negligence and malpractice are the most common. Some lawsuits may be for small or one-time incidents, while others are for larger or more far-reaching incidents. As it is the medical institution itself being sued, there is a high likelihood that more than one person was harmed.
Some common examples of a hospital lawsuit include but may not be limited to:
- Emergency room malpractice;
- Refusing to admit or treat a patient without adhering to proper denial protocol;
- Violating patient privacy rights;
- Slip and fall injuries;
- Administrative errors; and/or
- Insurance related disputes.
Hospital negligence may be direct, such as:
- Failing to ensure that all staff meet required standards for licensing, training, and education;
- Not maintaining sufficient staff to ensure appropriate levels of patient care; and/or
- Losing, mishandling, or unlawfully transferring confidential patient records.
Hospitals may be vicariously liable if:
- A nurse or technician gives a patient the wrong medication, or an improper dose;
- Leaving an object in the patient’s body;
- Improper treatment or dressing of wounds; and/or
- Disregard of proper medical care standards.
Due to the specific nature of a hospital environment, injuries that result in a lawsuit against the hospital often involve different areas of the law. Each state has its own specific laws meant to govern medical malpractice, as well as what is required to bring a lawsuit against a hospital.
How Do You Know if the Doctor or Hospital Is Responsible?
While some doctors are employees of the hospital, many are actually legally considered to be independent contractors. This is generally the case with surgeons. What this means is that if a patient is injured while in the doctor’s care at the hospital, the hospital is not legally responsible for the injury. The doctor is responsible; therefore, it is unlikely that the injured patient could successfully file a suit against the hospital, and would need to instead file a suit against the doctor.
If the negligent party is an employee of the hospital, the hospital itself will typically be responsible if the employee hurts someone else with their incompetence or negligence. Nurses, medical technicians, and support staff are all generally hospital employees. If these employees were doing something related to their job when they caused the patient’s injury, the hospital is likely responsible; however, this may not be the case if the employee made the mistake while under the supervision of a doctor.
There are often exceptions to these rules, especially on a case by case basis. Additionally, it can be difficult to determine who is actually at fault. An attorney can assist in determining how to proceed and who to hold responsible, by conducting discovery, which is a legal method of investigating potential claims.
What Kind of Compensation Can You Receive from a Hospital Lawsuit?
Hospital lawsuits typically result in a monetary award, which is intended to reimburse the patient for financial losses caused by the injury. This award may cover hospital bills, medical therapy, pharmaceutical costs, and insurance fees. It may also cover related losses such as lost wages, which is more likely if the injury was the direct cause of the victim losing their job.
In very serious cases, there may be additional consequences. The hospital and its staff may be required to review and revise their standards for practice and operating procedures. Large class action suits may result in investigations into the hospital’s overall safety standards. There may also be product recalls if the lawsuit involved defective or faulty drugs or medical devices.
What Kind of Defenses are Available for a Hospital in a Lawsuit?
Other than the hospital claiming that the performing physician was a contractor, and not an employee, there are a few defenses that the hospital may utilize when they are being sued. These may include but not be limited to:
- Contributory negligence, or the assertion that the injured party somehow contributed to their own injury;
- The statute of limitations has run out; and
- Absence of causation, or the plaintiff was not injured by the professional’s negligence, or the professional was not the actual and proximate cause of the injuries.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Sue a Hospital?
If you were injured while receiving treatment or care at a hospital, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can help determine who is at fault and against whom the lawsuit should be filed.
An attorney will also be able to determine if you have a valid claim, and your best legal course of action. Finally, an attorney will also be able to negotiate a settlement on your behalf, and represent you in court as needed.