The types of negligence that can lead to patient harm in the hospital setting cover most of the medical malpractice spectrum, from physician malpractice to nursing malpractice to malpractice by a physical or occupational therapist. Hospital administration itself can also be liable when a patient's condition is made worse by failure to maintain a reasonably safe environment.
Hospital liability can usually be divided into two main types:
Let's take a closer look at these kinds of liability.
While many health care providers who work in hospitals are independent contractors (i.e., not direct employees of the hospital), some are full- or part-time hospital employees. Because the hospital is liable for the negligence of its employees, a patient harmed by the medical malpractice of an employee doctor or other health care professional would be entitled to sue both the hospital and the individual employee.
Most cases of physician negligence fall into one of the following categories:
Physicians are more often not hospital employees but independent contractors who work at (but not for) the hospital, so some investigation may be necessary (more on this below).
A nurse can:
Any one of these mistakes can constitute negligence. If the nurse is an employee of the hospital, the nurse’s negligence is extended to the hospital.
Therapists—whether they be physical, occupational, or mental health therapists— can also be negligent. For example, a physical therapist might fail to follow a physician’s instructions properly, or might manipulate a patient’s injured limb too aggressively, re-breaking a bone or re-tearing a ligament or tendon that the patient was supposed to be rehabilitating.
What if the negligent doctor, nurse, or therapist was an independent contractor and not an employee of the hospital? Is the hospital still vicariously liable for that health care provider’s negligence?
This is a complicated issue that depends on your state’s law, but in general the courts will look at factors like:
As a general rule, the more control that an employer has over the performance of a supposedly independent contractor, the more likely it is that a court might find that the independent contractor was actually an employee.
Direct hospital negligence can include the hospital’s negligence in hiring and supervising its employees, in maintaining and repairing equipment, and in any other area overseen by hospital management.
Hospital negligence includes the following types of issues:
Learn more about suing a hospital for medical malpractice.
Establishing liability in any medical malpractice case is a challenge, and the procedural rules in these kinds of lawsuits can be fairly complex, so if you think you've been harmed by the medical negligence of a hospital or a member of its staff, it may be a good idea to discuss your situation with a medical malpractice attorney.