Hospitals are health care providers, and they enjoy certain legal protections in many states. There are times when patients receiving treatment at a hospital are permitted to sue the hospital for malpractice. There are other times when they can’t. It all depends on the circumstances surrounding the injury and the relationship to the hospital of the person that caused the damage.
Employees causing injuries
The law of respondeat superior came to the United States on the Mayflower. In modern terms, it means that the employer is liable for the employee’s negligent acts. So if a hospital employee negligently causes an injury to a patient or anybody else who is lawfully on the hospital premises, the hospital can be held liable. Hospital employees can be anybody like a nurse, technician, therapist, records technician or even an orderly. They might be negligent by administering the wrong medication or treatment, entering incorrect information on a patient’s chart, losing or misplacing the chart, or by failing to raise the rails on a patient’s bed. These are all acts by hospital employees that the hospital might ultimately be liable for as their employer. There are other times when a hospital can be guilty of negligence but not medical negligence. This might occur when a hospital employee causes a traffic accident while in the course and scope of their employment, or when a custodian fails to place a caution sign on a wet floor and somebody slips and falls.
Direct hospital liability
Under certain circumstances, a hospital can be found guilty of corporate negligence for its acts or omissions. It can be held liable for failure to confirm that that their staff has the necessary licenses, training, and education. If an attending physician is an independent contractor working at the hospital, they must have proper documentation. Hospitals can also be held liable for retaining a doctor on staff who has become incompetent. The hospital also might not maintain sufficient staff for the demands on it. A patient might also come to the hospital for one condition and leave there with another much more severe and completely unrelated condition. Sending a patient home too soon can have its very tragic results.
Errors and omissions of doctors
Although some doctors might be employees of hospitals, most doctors are not. An employer and employee relationship, if any, is determined by the facts of the case and the nature and extent of their dealings with the hospital. Most doctors are either complete independent contractors or in the employ of an entity other than the hospital. Hospitals are quite careful in distancing themselves from an employment relationship with doctors. For that reason, it’s tough to attribute a doctor’s medical malpractice to a hospital just because the physician’s error or omission occurred at that hospital. One exception to this general rule that’s frequently recognized by courts is when the patient had every reason to believe that the physician in question worked for the hospital such as in an emergency room. In this scenario, there might be no opportunity to tell the patient that the doctor isn’t employed by the hospital.