Filing a lawsuit against a hospital for negligence can be a complicated endeavor. The corporate structure of the hospital, its relationship with its physicians, and the type of injuries you suffer will affect your ability to file and maintain a medical negligence lawsuit. Furthermore, state tort reform laws and local rules regarding medical malpractice cases may also factor into your ability to recover. Read on to learn more about filing a lawsuit against a hospital for negligence.
Medical malpractice suits -- themselves a subgenre of tort lawsuits -- are not the only type of negligence lawsuits that may be filed against a hospital. It is important to note that, like any other place of business, hospitals owe a duty to patients and visitors to maintain the hospital in a reasonably safe condition and to protect them from any hazards of which the hospital is aware, or should be aware. This includes a duty to proactively warn of potential hazards and to inspect the premises to identify and remove hazards.
That’s a lot of legalese saying that hospitals need to make sure their premises are clean, safe and free of hazards. Otherwise they would face liability for slips and falls or other injuries that occur on the premises unrelated to the practice of medicine.
The proliferation of lawsuits filed against hospitals for medical malpractice has led to reforms in the relationship between hospitals and the doctors that practice medicine within.
While some hospitals still hire doctors as employees, many hospitals have switched to an independent contractor model where physicians or physician groups are contracted to practice at the hospital, but are not employees of that hospital. Hospital liability can often hinge on the employment relationship (or lack thereof) between a hospital and the allegedly negligent doctor.
A hospital that directly employs a doctor is vicariously liable for that doctor’s actions in most instances, regardless of whether any negligence is attributable to the hospital itself. That means that if a doctor commits malpractice, the hospital can be on the hook for any damages along with the doctor individually. Insurance plays a huge role in these types of situations, and it is entirely possible that the hospital and the offending doctor or doctors are insured by separate entities. It could also be possible that the hospital -- and its employees -- are “self-insured,” meaning that the hospital maintains its own financial resources for use in the event of claims.
Nurses, techs and (in the case of teaching hospitals) residents and interns are almost always hospital employees. As such, if there are any allegations of negligence involving the medical support staff -- as opposed to the actual practicing physicians -- it is likely that the hospital will be vicariously liable for its employees’ actions.
In the past, a hospital using the independent contractor model could very likely be dismissed from the case absent some independent negligent act by the hospital or an employee that is separate and distinct from the doctor’s medical malpractice. The hospital would argue that it was simply a building in which independent contractors practice medicine.
However, this notion has begun to change. The advent of “comprehensive health care” and the intense competition for patients in areas with several major hospitals has blurred the perceived lines between hospitals and the physicians that practice at them. As a result, several high courts throughout the country have found that hospitals may be vicariously liable for the malpractice of independent contractors in certain situations. If a hospital markets and advertises itself as a “full service” or “comprehensive” health center, courts argue that the distinction between independent contractor and employee is irrelevant in the eyes of the public, and liability can ensue.
Hospitals are liable for the negligent credentialing or retention of incompetent physicians. The hospital administration is responsible for determining who can and cannot practice within its walls. Hospitals issue credentials or extend “privileges” to doctors that are approved for practice in their buildings. When hospitals knowingly allow an incompetent physician to continue practicing, or issue credentials or grant privileges to a doctor that they knew or should have know was incompetent, the hospital is liable for any damages those doctors cause. This is considered “corporate negligence,” and is a very common cause of action against hospitals.