Can I Sue the Hospital for Negligence?
If you are a patient in a hospital receiving medical treatment, and a hospital employee worsens your condition or injures you in any way, you can sue the hospital for medical negligence.
But suing a hospital can be a bit tricky. In almost every case, to sue the hospital, an employee of the hospital must be responsible for the negligence. Most doctors are not considered employees but independent contractors in terms of the work they do at hospitals. There are some cases when acts of negligence by independent contractor doctors will allow you to sue the hospital as well, but these situations are few and far between.
What Are the Advantages of Suing the Hospital?
The advantages of suing a hospital where you received treatment below the standard of care are twofold:
- Medical institutions, like hospitals, generally have larger insurance policies than individuals. This means, for example, if they are
responsible for a surgeon’s harm, a nurse's lack of attention to your wounds or a doctor's misdiagnosis, there is a greater chance of you receiving adequate compensation.
- Hospitals often create the rules that doctors, surgeons and nurses have to follow. If a doctor or surgeon has followed the rules, but they still end up harming you, then the rules may be bad and in need of change. Suing the hospital for negligence helps attract attention to the bad rules and encourages the hospital to change them, so no one else gets hurt.
To make the most of these advantages, you need to know whether or not you can sue the hospital for malpractice.
Hospital Employees and Negligence
An employer is responsible for the actions of its employees, and a hospital or other medical institution is no different. In most instances, a hospital can be held liable if one of its employees harms a patient due to incompetence. If that employee is not reasonably cautious when providing care, then the patient will likely be able to file a hospital negligence lawsuit. “Employees” can include medical professionals such as doctors, surgeons, technicians, nurses and support staff personnel.
There are some instances where a doctor will be considered an employee as well, but this is a rare occurrence. For example, if a surgeon makes a mistake while working in a hospital, that hospital will probably not be liable for that mistake. Likewise, if a hospital employee under that surgeon’s supervision makes an error, the hospital will likely escape liability as well. You would probably have to sue the doctor rather than the hospital.
In most cases, hospitals employ nurses, support staff and medical technicians to operate instruments like x-rays or MRI machines. If the employee was doing something job-related, and these actions led to a patient’s injuries, the patient can most likely sue the hospital for the damages.
For example, the nursing staff knows that a patient has bedsores from lying in one position for too long. They should attempt to improve the situation by regularly moving the patient or shifting their position since bedsores can become infected, leading to sepsis and death.If the nursing staff does nothing, despite knowing about the bedsores, the hospital or institution — such as a nursing home — can be liable for the nurses’ actions or inactions.
Another example would be if an ultrasound technician makes a mistake when doing a reading on a pregnant woman. The woman's doctor could then decide on the treatment of the fetus based on the incorrect reading, ultimately damaging the child's life after birth. The hospital could then be liable.
When Is a Doctor a Hospital Employee?
Whether or not a doctor is an employee of a hospital depends on many factors. Some doctors and surgeons may be regarded as independent contractors, and the hospital in which they work will not be held responsible for malpractice.
Say your doctor misdiagnoses your condition and prescribes a course treatment based on this misdiagnosis. If the nursing staff at a hospital follows that treatment to the letter and your condition worsens because of the doctor's negligence, the nursing staff is not responsible, and thus, the hospital cannot be sued.
Likewise, if a doctor makes a mistake while they are working in the hospital, and their actions result in injury to the patient, the patient can sue the doctor but not the hospital.
If a hospital employee, like a nurse, is working under a doctor’s supervision, and their actions result in injury to the patient; the patient may only be able to sue the doctor, not the hospital. This distinction is dependent on a couple of different factors:
- Was the doctor present at the time of the malpractice?
- Did the doctor have control over the hospital employee’s actions and could have prevented their negligence?
For instance, if a nurse miscounts the number of sponges used during surgery, and leaves one in the patient, the surgeon and not the hospital would be liable.
How Do You Determine If a Doctor Is an Employee of the Hospital?
During the 1970s and ’80s, when medical malpractice suits surged across the states, hospitals realized that they increase their liability if they employ doctors. To protect themselves from this increased liability, more and more hospitals began to hire doctors as independent contractors or grant them visiting privileges rather than hire them as employees. The doctor does not receive a W-2 from the hospital or any benefits. The hospital also does not take any taxes out of the fees it pays to the doctor.
Some hospitals do continue to employ doctors as members of its staff. A doctor is more likely to be a hospital’s employee if:
- The hospital controls the doctor’s working hours and when they can and cannot take vacation time.
- The hospital determines the fees that the doctor can charge for their services.
- The hospital issues the doctor a W-2, offers them benefits and withholds the appropriate taxes from their paychecks.
If these conditions are met, and a doctor injures a patient because of negligence or malpractice, the doctor is considered a hospital employee, and the patient can sue the hospital.
You may have no way of knowing whether a doctor is an employee or independent contractor of an institution. In those cases, medical malpractice attorneys can likely determine the employee status of a medical professional and from there, who the liable parties are.
Are There Times When Hospitals Can Be Held Liable for Non-Employee Doctors?
Yes, hospitals are occasionally liable for independent contractors, but these situations are relatively few and rare.
1. The Hospital Does Not Make It Clear to the Patient That the Doctor Is Not Their Employee
If the hospital fails to inform the patient during admissions or at a very early stage of treatment that the doctor treating them is not their employee, the patient can sue the hospital for maltreatment if the doctor is negligent.
2. The Hospital Retains and Incompetent Doctor
If a doctor is incompetent, it does not matter if they are an employee or an independent contractor. If the hospital has knowledge that the doctor is incompetent or dangerous and still retains them and gives them staff privileges, then the hospital is liable.
For instance, if the hospital is aware that a doctor develops a drug or alcohol problem and allows them to continue treating patients, the hospital is liable for any negligence committed.
What About Emergency Room Doctors?
Doctors who work in an emergency room (ER) present a unique problem. Patients brought into the emergency room often need immediate treatment. There may not be a chance for the hospital to inform them that the doctor is not an employee before the doctor begins treatment. Occasionally ER patients can sue hospitals when ER doctors commit an act of negligence.
For a doctor or a hospital to be the subject of a medical malpractice suit, the patient must prove that they did not receive the appropriate standard of care when they were injured. In an emergency room, standards of care are different and not quite as strict because of the emergency nature of the facility.
Even with these more relaxed standards of care, that does not mean emergency room doctors and medical personnel cannot make mistakes.
Emergency rooms must have the appropriate number of staff to handle the number of patients who need treatment. If an emergency room is understaffed, this can lead to numerous errors in instances of negligence and malpractice.
2. Failure to Diagnose the Condition
In the hustle and bustle of an ER, a doctor can often misdiagnose or fail to diagnose a condition. Strokes, heart attacks, internal bleeding and appendicitis are conditions that are commonly overlooked or misdiagnosed in an emergency room.
3. The Wrong Medication
Even if the doctor has correctly diagnosed a patient’s condition, they may incorrectly prescribe medication for the patient. This potentially can cause an allergic reaction for the patient or receiving an overdose or underdose of the drug.
4. Failure to Monitor the Patient
If the emergency room is busy, there may be times when staff cannot consistently treat a patient or monitor the patient. As a result, the condition can worsen and sometimes lead to the death of the patient. This is mainly a problem in understaffed emergency rooms.
5. Giving a Patient Contaminated Blood
If blood is incorrectly stored, handled, or labeled, it can lead to a harmful and potentially deadly transfusion.
6. Contaminated Equipment
It is not an unfamiliar story for a patient to go into an emergency room, to be treated for one condition and to die of something completely different because of contamination. If you believe that you were injured because of contamination in an ER or hospital, the hospital is liable.
If you were injured or suffered damages as a result of any of the above factors, it is almost certain that you would be able to sue the hospital. Again, it does not matter if a doctor is an employee or independent contractor in these situations. Since you are not going to an emergency room to see your regular doctor, the hospital is generally liable for any treatment that you receive in the ER.
How Long Do I Have to Sue the Hospital?
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations says you have two years to file a medical malpractice claim against a doctor. The two-year period begins after you discover or reasonably should have discovered the malpractice.
Sometimes the malpractice is not discovered for two or three years after it has occurred. The law in Pennsylvania states that regardless of when you discover malpractice, you only have seven years after it happened to file a malpractice lawsuit.
There are two exceptions to this standard:
- If the malpractice occurred when the patient was a child, the seven-year period does not begin until they are 20. This means the child would have up under the age of 27 to file a malpractice lawsuit.
- The Discovery Rule is the other exception. If a medical provider leaves a sponge or a medical instrument inside a patient, it is possible the patient can still file a lawsuit once the object is discovered. The two-year window would begin upon the discovery of foreign objects in their body.
Should I Hire a Lawyer to Help Me With a Medical Malpractice Suit Against the Hospital?
Yes. Medical malpractice suits can be complex, complicated and confusing. Lawsuits can often go beyond the scope of personal injury lawyers, which is why offices retain lawyers specialized in medical malpractice suits on their staff. It is critical to determine whether you have enough evidence to pursue a medical malpractice claim. Medical malpractice attorneys will be:
- Well-versed in the laws.
- Experienced enough to know what evidence to look for.
- Knowledgeable about what experts to hire.
- Aware of which individuals or hospitals to sue.
A medical malpractice lawyer can help you:
1. Determine If the Hospital Can Be Sued
Remember, the hospital can be sued either for its negligence or for malpractice committed by one of its employees.
2. Help You Gather All the Necessary Information
Medical records are the key piece of evidence in almost every malpractice lawsuit. Sometimes it can take a while to track down these records, and you need to know where to look for them. Experienced medical malpractice attorneys know where to find medical records and incident reports and can even find witnesses who may be able to testify for you in a trial.
3. Find an Expert Witness to Provide Testimony
In Pennsylvania, you must file a Certificate of Merit from an expert witness to testify that the hospital or doctor did not provide the expected standard of care, resulting in an injury you suffered
4. Determine Your Damages
Many times the hospital or the doctor will approach an injured patient about a settlement before the case goes to trial. If that is the case, you and your attorney will need to determine what damages you should request. Even if your case goes to trial, this is an important figure for you to know. Your attorney will know medical finance experts or economists whom they can consult to help determine the past, present and future damages for which you should be compensated.
5. Ensure You File Your Lawsuit Within the Two-Year Statute of Limitations
This is one of the most vital jobs a medical malpractice lawyer can perform for a client. Often, clients who believe they have a medical malpractice claim are in no condition to do the legwork and the paperwork that is required to file a lawsuit on time.
6. Decide How to Proceed
First, your attorney will gather all the information, collect the medical records, talk to the witnesses and check prior cases of a similar nature. They will then let you know whether you have a valid claim that should go forward. If your attorney believes that your case is not strong enough to prevail in the courts, they will tell you so. Proving medical malpractice can be complicated, especially against the hospital. You need to know you have a strong case to go forward.
Let the Experienced Attorneys at KBG Injury Law Help You With Your Hospital Medical Malpractice Suit
As you can see, determining whether or not you can file a hospital negligence lawsuit can be very complicated. The professionals with KBG Injury Law can help you navigate through these complexities and provide the representation you need.
If you would like a free consultation, call us at 1-800-509-1011 or contact us online where you can leave us your contact information and a few details about your situation. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.