If you’ve been injured while receiving treatment at a hospital, you may be wondering if you can bring a legal claim against the facility for negligence or medical malpractice. Hospitals are often on the hook for incompetent care provided by their employees, nurses, and medical technicians. They are often not responsible for the medical negligence of a doctor.

A hospital can be held liable for medical malpractice injuries caused by people working in the facility under the corporate negligence doctrine. Depending on the relationship between the hospital and the allegedly negligent medical practitioner, the hospital’s level of liability can vary. If a person is an employee of a hospital, the hospital may be liable for the employee’s actions if that employee acts incompetently and hurts a patient. However, a hospital might not be liable for medical malpractice that a doctor commits, even if the doctor is working for the hospital.

For example, if a nurse that the hospital employs provides the wrong injection to the patient resulting in injury to the patient, the patient can sue the hospital for the nurse’s mistake. Suppose a doctor makes a mistake during a procedure and injures the patient. In that case, the hospital might not be liable for the patient’s injury unless the doctor is an employee of the hospital.

Are Doctors Employees of the Hospital?

Determining whether a doctor is an employee of the hospital depends on the nature of the doctor’s relationship with the hospital. Some doctors are employees of hospitals, while other doctors are not. Many doctors who work for hospitals are independent contractors meaning that the hospital is not liable for the injuries and mistakes that the doctor commits.

Determining whether the doctor is an employee of the hospital relies on:

  • The hospital controls the work that the doctor does
  • The hospital sets the doctors hours and schedule
  • The hospital sets the fees that the doctor can charge

What is Respondeat Superior?

Under the legal theory known as respondeat superior, if someone is an employee of a hospital, the hospital is typically liable if that employee hurts a patient by acting negligently. Suppose the employee is incompetent or does not act with reasonable caution when treating or dealing with a patient. In that case, the hospital will usually be responsible for any harm to the patient. Keep in mind that not every mistake or unfortunate accident that happens in a hospital rises to the level of negligence.

Usually, nurses, medical technicians, and hospital support staff are considered hospital employees. As long as the employee was doing something job-related when they caused an injury to a patient, the patient can usually sue the hospital for the resulting harm.

For example, suppose a registered nurse employed by a hospital injects the wrong medication into an IV and the patient ends up harmed as a result. In that case, the hospital could be liable for the registered nurse’s mistake. However, suppose a doctor makes a mistake and injures a hospitalized patient. In that case, the hospital might not be liable for the doctor’s mistake unless the doctor is an employee of the hospital.

If a hospital employee commits malpractice while under a doctor’s supervision, the patient can sue the doctor, but the hospital may not be liable. Whether an employee is “under the supervision” of a doctor when the accident occurs depends on whether the doctor was present and whether the doctor had enough control over the scene to prevent the employee’s negligence.

A surgeon may be liable if an attending nurse miscounts surgical sponges, leading a surgeon to leave a sponge in a patient.

What Kind of Liability Does the Hospital Have for My Injury?

A hospital may have vicarious liability and/or corporate liability for the medical malpractice of a practitioner:

  • Vicarious Liability: A hospital faces vicarious liability for the negligence of an employee. Suppose an employee is found to be negligent and guilty of medical malpractice. In that case, the injured party can be awarded damages from the hospital for vicarious liability in addition to any damages from the specific practitioner. However, vicarious liability depends on the relationship between the practitioner and the hospital itself. If the practitioner is not a formal employee but an attending member or an independent contractor, then the hospital is not vicariously liable.
    • Courts have found some exceptions to this distinction in cases where the attending or contractor practitioner is reasonably seen as a full-fledged staff member by the injured patient. For example, often in emergency room situations where it would be difficult to ascertain the status of a practitioner prior to obtaining emergency care, courts have held the hospital to be vicariously liable, whether the practitioner is a staff member or not.
  • Corporate Liability: A hospital can also face corporate liability for negligence in not retaining competent employees. A hospital is obligated to provide adequate services and service providers. This includes ensuring that the staff members are:
    • Competent
    • Adequately trained
    • Proven to be qualified and credentialed

Depending on the practitioner’s liability, the relationship between the practitioner and the hospital, and the hospital’s negligence in providing sufficient staff, an injured party can recover damages from a hospital for medical malpractice.

Apparent Authority
Suppose the hospital does not make it clear that the doctor is an independent contractor and is not employed by the hospital and the doctor has an appearance of being the hospital’s employee.
In that case, the patient has the right to bring a claim against the hospital for the doctor’s mistakes and negligent acts. Hospitals usually inform all patients on admission forms that the doctor is not the hospital’s employee and is rather an independent contractor.

Incompetent Doctors
Many states would hold the hospital liable for medical malpractice committed by a doctor, even if the doctor is an independent contractor if the hospital was negligent in hiring the doctor or allowing the doctor to work at the facility.

However, the hospital will only be found negligent if they had knowledge of present facts that the doctor is incompetent to treat patients or they should have known that the doctor was incompetent.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

One of the biggest mistakes a patient can make is waiting too long to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Statutory time limits called statutes of limitations require patients to file legal claims within a specific time period.

The time limits are different from state to state, but they can be as short as one year from the date the treatment mistake was made.

Can a Lawyer Help Me to Sue for Medical Malpractice?

Suppose you or a loved one have been injured by medical malpractice. In that case, you should speak to a personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case, who can be held liable, and what types of recoveries are available to you.

Consider using LegalMatch’s large database of personal injury lawyers today. Our services can help you find an experienced attorney in your city or state for free. By narrowing down your search based on the specific issues in your case, you can find the perfect fit for all of your legal needs. There is no fee to schedule a consultation, and LegalMatch’s services are always 100% confidential.