Doctors, nurses and other medical staff are not the only ones who may be liable for medical negligence. In certain situations, it is possible for victims of alleged medical negligence to sue the hospital where the treatment was received for medical malpractice.
Simply put, a hospital can be negligent if a hospital employee (including doctors, nurses and other staff) does something improperly or fails to do something he or she was supposed to do and an injury results because of this action or inaction. If this is the case, the hospital may be liable for medical negligence. Situations that may give rise to liability on behalf of the hospital are countless, but some of the most common situations that may involve hospital negligence include:
- Medication error, either by giving a patient the wrong medication or the wrong dosage
- Surgical error, which may include instances such as removal of the wrong body part, leaving a sponge, instrument, probe, or other object in a patient’s body after surgery, or performing the wrong surgery on a patient
- Misdiagnosis or failure to treat an illness, including failure to order proper tests or consult with a specialist
- Surgery performed on a patient without their informed consent
- Birth injury or trauma
- Failure to monitor or stabilize a patient properly, including staff shortages that compromise adequate patient care
- Improper use of a medical device
- Failure to ensure hospital staff has required education, training, certifications, and licenses
- Failure to maintain patient records, or loss of records
- Improper use of anesthesia, including administering it without proper investigation to minimize the chances that an allergic reaction might result
- Failure to properly dress and treat wounds which causes an infection to develop
While this list certainly is not exhaustive, any of these occurrences may give rise to a medical malpractice action against the hospital for medical negligence.
Hospital negligence cases may be complicated for several reasons, particularly because of the amount of money that is at stake in these medical malpractice suits. Another reason hospital negligence suits may be tricky is the theory of vicarious liability. Under this theory, an employer may be held liable for the negligence of its employees if an injury results while the employee is on the job. In short, as long as a hospital employee is acting within the scope of his or her employment when the injury occurs, the patient may sue the hospital for medical negligence. Typically, nurses, medical technicians, and paramedics are hospital employees and so their negligent acts may result in liability on behalf of the hospital. Physicians, on the other hand, may not necessarily be a hospital employee for purposes of hospital negligence actions. Such physicians are independent contractors and the hospital cannot be held responsible for their medical negligence, even if the negligence occurred in the hospital. Some factors that may aid in determining whether a doctor likely is an employee (rather than an independent contractor) of the hospital include whether the hospital controls and/or supervises the physician’s working hours, or sets fees that the physician may charge. Because the crucial factor to vicarious liability is an employee-employer relationship, hospitals often claim that the physician or staff member who caused the injury is an independent contractor, and therefore not an employee.
Victims of hospital negligence may be entitled to compensation for medical bills and expenses, lost wages and/or pain and suffering, including physical pain, loss of quality of life and emotional distress. Beyond such monetary compensation, hospital negligence suits can ensure that hospitals take the appropriate steps to prevent the same or similar mistakes from happening to another patient.