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 is employed by the hospital provides the wrong injection to the patient resulting in injury to the patient, the patient can sue the hospital for the nurse’s mistake. If a doctor makes a mistake during a procedure and injures the patient, 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 are committed by the doctor.
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 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.
A hospital faces vicarious liability for the negligence of an employee. If an employee is found to be negligent and guilty of medical malpractice, the injured party can be awarded damages from the hospital for vicarious liability in addition to any damages from the specific practitioner.
Vicarious liability is dependent, however, 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.
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:
- 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.
If 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 hospitals employee, 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 hospitals employee and is rather an independent contractor.
There are many states that 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.
Can a Lawyer Help Me Sue for Medical Malpractice?
If you, or a loved one, have been injured by medical malpractice, 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.