More than two decades ago, in a case that is still discussed to this day, a surgeon amputated the healthy foot of a diabetic man instead of the diseased limb. The man received a $12 million settlement from the hospital on the grounds that the hospital did not have operating room policies in place that could have prevented the error. The case was the impetus to changes in operating rooms across the country.
Unfortunately, even the methods now used in operating rooms to avoid surgical errors have not been enough to completely prevent cases of hospital medical malpractice. For example, a few years ago, a Charleston, West Virginia hospital settled 70 lawsuits arising from a surgeon’s six-month tenure as an employee of the hospital. During that short period of time, the doctor botched 70 surgical procedures.
What Is Considered Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider is negligent by performing below the standard of care expected by other health care providers in the community who work in the same profession. In order to prove your doctor is liable for malpractice, you must prove:
- You had a doctor/patient relationship with the doctor. This means that you were actually the doctor’s patient.
- The doctor was negligent by performing below the standard of care. This requires expert testimony of another professional in the same practice area.
- You were injured by the doctor’s negligence.
- You suffered damages as a result of the injury.
How are Hospitals Held Liable for Errors of Health Care Providers?
There are times when a hospital may be liable for the medical malpractice of doctors and other health care providers. Hospitals, like other employers, are responsible for the errors of their employees. This means that if an employee is negligent in providing care and treatment to a patient, and the patient suffers damages due to that negligence, the hospital is ultimately liable. This applies to nurses, nurse’s aides, technicians, and other medical support staff that work for the hospital.
For example, if a nurse injures a patient by administering the wrong medication, as an employee of the hospital, the hospital is liable for the nurse’s error. Sometimes, liability is not so clear cut when a doctor commits malpractice, depending on if the doctor is an employee or an independent contractor.
Liability When Doctors Are Employees
When a doctor is an employee of a hospital, the hospital can be held liable for his or her medical malpractice. Additionally, a hospital can be held financially responsible for its own acts or omissions. For example a hospital can be found liable to a patient for:
- Wrongful hiring of the doctor when the investigation would have revealed the surgeon was not qualified or was incompetent;.
- Wrongful retention of the doctor when it becomes obvious the doctor is no longer qualified or is incompetent .
Is the Doctor an Employee or Independent Contractor?
Even when a hospital argues the doctor was not an employee but instead an independent contractor, so the hospital should not be liable for the doctor’s malpractice, the Court will make its own decision after considering:
- Whether the hospital controls the working hours of the doctor.
- Whether the hospital determines the fees charged by the doctor for hospital services that are provided.
- Whether the patient had a good faith belief the doctor was employed by the hospital.
So, there are exceptions to every rule. Even if a doctor is an independent contractor, the hospital may still be responsible for the malpractice.
When Hospitals Are Responsible for Malpractice of Doctor Who Is an Independent Contractor
Hospitals may still be liable for the non-employee physician’s malpractice if:
- The hospital was negligent in giving staff privileges to the incompetent doctor.
- The hospital was negligent in keeping a doctor on staff after it knew, or should have known, that the doctor was dangerous.
- Failing to notice that a previously competent physician on staff has become incompetent due to addiction or other problems.
Hospital Malpractice Attorneys Can Help
If you or someone you care about was injured by a medical provider while in the hospital for any medical or surgical reason, you need the assistance of our hospital negligence attorneys at Johnstone & Gabhart, LLP. We offer a free consultation to review the facts of your case and advise you on the best way to proceed.
The law requires you to bring your suit within a certain time after the malpractice occurs, or after you discover the malpractice, so contact us as soon as possible.