Medical Malpractice: When You Can (and Can’t) Sue the Hospital

Most people assume that if you’re injured while being treated at a hospital, and you’re unable to resolve the issue through other means, the next step is to file a lawsuit against the hospital. However, it may surprise you to learn that while the hospital is responsible for employee negligence, this often does not extend to doctors.

The parties you can and cannot sue for hospital medical malpractice vary from case to case, depending on the nature of the responsible person or people’s relationship with the hospital and the laws in your state. Here are some general guidelines for medical negligence or malpractice incidents.

Hospitals are liable for the actions of their employees

If the person who caused the negligent injury or illness is a direct employee of the hospital, then the hospital is responsible for the incident and can be named in a lawsuit. Not every mistake that occurs in a hospital can or should be considered negligence. But, in cases where an employee’s actions lead to obvious medical malpractice, the hospital can be held liable.

In general, nurses, paramedics and medical technicians are hospital employees. If the injury occurred while the employee was doing something related to his or her job, the injured person can typically sue the hospital (if negligence can be proven of course).

Doctors, hospitals and medical malpractice

Hospitals are liable for mistakes made by employees that harm patients. But, quite often, doctors are not employees of the hospital. While some doctors are hospital employees, most are independent contractors who may also have a private practice, either within the hospital complex or in a separate location. If the hospital does not control the doctor’s working hours, vacation time or fees charged, the doctor is most likely not an employee.

If you are injured at a hospital through the malpractice or negligence of a non-employee doctor, you cannot sue the hospital, though you may be able to file a lawsuit against the doctor directly. Additionally, in some cases you cannot sue the hospital for the actions of a hospital employee who was under the supervision of an independently contracted doctor. This may be the case if:

  • The doctor was present when the incident occurred, and/or…
  • The doctor had the control to prevent employee negligence (but did not)

Potential exemptions for non-employee doctors

Under some circumstances, a hospital can be held liable for the actions of a doctor who is an independent contractor rather than an employee. These exemptions include:

The hospital appeared to be the doctor’s employer. With regard to independent contractors, hospitals must make it clear to patients that the doctor is not a hospital employee. To this end, most hospitals include a disclaimer on the admission form explaining that the doctor doesn’t work for the hospital.

However, this solution doesn’t work in an emergency room setting, where there is often no time to inform patients about the doctor’s non-employee status. Often, ER patients can file a lawsuit when a doctor commits medical malpractice, regardless of the relationship with the hospital.

An incompetent doctor is kept on staff. Finally, an exception can be made if a hospital has given staff privileges to a doctor who is incompetent or dangerous, in cases where the hospital is aware or reasonably should have known that the doctor was incompetent.

Regardless of who caused the harm, if you are injured due to negligent care, you should contact a medical malpractice lawyer to find out if you have legal grounds to file a lawsuit. The laws regarding medical malpractice and negligence are complex. If you’re considering a lawsuit, it’s important to consult an experienced attorney. The Miami trial lawyers at Baron, Herskowitz, and Cohen have successfully represented many clients in medical malpractice lawsuits. To learn more, contact us today.

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