People who need medical treatment routinely seek help at hospitals. Although hospitals and staffers can’t ensure positive outcomes and aren’t required to provide “the best” treatment, they are expected to provide a reasonable standard of care to patients.
When that does not happen, hospitals can be held liable in two ways:
- Vicarious liability for the negligent acts of its employees;
- Direct liability for negligence involving acts or omissions for which the hospital itself owed a duty of care.
At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, our Boston medical malpractice lawyers know proving hospital liability is rarely a simple task. For one thing, many doctors are not actually hospital employees, and defense attorneys will assert the facility cannot thus be held vicariously liable. For another thing, hospitals tend to vigorously fight these claims. It’s not just about the money that could be lost in a settlement or verdict, but rather the harm to the institution’s reputation that is at stake.
An attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice law is essential to a successful case against a hospital system.Hospital Negligence
Negligence is when:
- A duty of care is owed;
- That duty of care is breached;
- That breach directly results in some harm to someone;
- Damages resulted from defendant’s conduct.
There are a number of ways hospitals may be found directly negligent for certain actions or omissions. Some examples may include:
- Negligent hiring of employees (i.e., not verifying certain providers are properly licensed or failing to identify certain criminal histories or poor professional records);
- Failure to make sure employees stay current on their licensing requirements and continuing medical education;
- Not firing employees who are incompetent or unsafe;
- Failing to properly staff certain units;
- Improperly labeling medication;
- Not establishing an effective patient safety protocol (i.e., sanitation, fall prevention, maintaining confidential medical records);
- Failing to maintain medical equipment;
- Failing to identify and address potential security breaches.
Many of these situations would fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice claims. Still, there may be instances in which negligence claims against a hospital may be a form of “general negligence.” For example, if an elderly patient slips and falls while walking down the hall to a bathroom, it could be medical negligence because he was not being properly supervised as a patient. However, it could also be a form of general negligence premises liability, for failure to maintain safe conditions for invitees.Vicarious Liability
Vicarious liability can be successfully asserted against a hospital when its workers have acted with negligence – even if the hospital itself didn’t do anything wrong. This part of the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior,” which is Latin for “Let the master answer.”
That means a hospital is legally liable for negligence committed by an employee physician, nurse, therapist, administrator or other health care provider. So long as these individuals were acting within the scope of employment when the negligent acts or omissions occurred and so long as those individuals were employees, the hospital can be found negligent.
Some examples of health care provider actions for which a hospital could be vicariously liable include:
- A doctor who misdiagnoses a patient
- An OBGYN who makes a mistake during a patient’s pregnancy or childbirth
- A doctor who errs in the prescription or administration of a medication
- An error in surgery
- Nurses who don’t properly monitor a patient
- Administration of the wrong type or amount of medicine
- Failure to turn bedridden patients regularly, in prevention of bed sores
- Failure to report certain complaints or symptoms to a physician
- A physical therapist who is too forceful with a patient’s injured limb
If the negligent medical worker who caused plaintiff harm did NOT work for the hospital, but was instead an independent contractor, the issue of liability is more complex.
Many hospitals contract with agencies to provide services of doctors, nurses and other health care providers. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts Superior Court in the 2007 case of Ward v. Kylander declined to extend the scope of corporate liability for hospitals. The court held that a hospital and/or parent corporation can’t be liable for medical malpractice simply because the procedure in question was performed on hospital grounds.
In those cases, the hospital can’t be negligent, but the health care worker and the direct employer of that worker may be held liable. So for example, if a negligent nurse works for a staffing agency, it would be the staffing agency – not the hospital – that would be held vicariously liable.
There are situations, though, where there could be exceptions. For example, some hospitals could be directly or vicariously liable for acts or omissions by contractors retained to operate outpatient facilities or emergency rooms.
Also important to point out is that just because a hospital labels an employee an “independent contractor” doesn’t necessarily make it so. Your attorney may argue to the court that given the scope of the worker’s duties and the breadth of control the employer had over the worker (i.e., with scheduling, pay, assignments, etc.), he or she was in fact an employee.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL