There are several circumstances in which a hospital may be found liable for negligence and/or medical malpractice when it comes to the provision of medical care to patients. This article discusses those circumstances and the kind of proof necessary in each case.
A hospital can be held liable for the negligence of its employees. Typically, nurses are hospital employees. And in some cases, medical technicians and paramedics are also employed by a hospital. As long as the employee was doing something job-related when he or she injured the patient (who would be the plaintiff in the case), the plaintiff can sue the hospital over the injury.
The kind of proof the plaintiff needs depends on whether the negligence involved an issue of professional health care, or if it involved a simpler matter. If the case involves the exercise of professional health care, for example a nurse administering medication, then the case will be treated as a medical malpractice case. Medical malpractice cases are quite complex and typically require testimony from a qualified medical expert to prove liability.
If the case involves non-medical negligence of an employee, for example not putting out warning signs when a floor is wet, then standard negligence rules will apply. With the example of a plaintiff who has been injured after slipping on a wet floor, he or she would need to prove the factors necessary for a slip and fall case.
Whether a judge will conclude the case involves professional medical negligence or simply "standard" negligence is sometimes difficult to discern ahead of time. For example, if a medical technician leaves a guardrail too loose on a patient's bed, is that professional medical negligence or standard negligence? Different courts have answered similar questions in different ways.
Hospitals are usually not liable for the medical malpractice of doctors because most doctors are independent contractors. However, some doctors are employees of hospitals. Whether a doctor is an employee of the hospital depends on the nature of his or her relationship with the hospital. The following are a few of the general characteristics that might suggest the doctor is an employee:
If it is not clear, the doctor's employment status is something that will be resolved in court. There are also some instances where the doctor will be treated as if she were a hospital employee because the plaintiff was led to believe that was the case. If the doctor is an employee or is treated as if he is an employee, the plaintiff can sue the hospital for medical malpractice, and must prove everything that is required to win a medical malpractice case.
A number of states hold the hospital responsible if it gives staff privileges to an incompetent or dangerous doctor. The hospital is also responsible if it should have known that a previously safe doctor had become incompetent or dangerous.
For example, if a doctor becomes severely addicted to drugs and the hospital management knew about it, or it was so obvious they should have known about it, a patient injured by that doctor can sue the hospital.
A plaintiff suing for negligent selection of a doctor must prove that the hospital failed to follow proper screening procedures before granting staff privileges. Usually this will entail comparing how the hospital screened the doctor with the screening procedures recommended by state or national medical bodies.
Depending on the state, the plaintiff may also be required to prove that the hospital would not have hired the doctor if an appropriate and effective screening procedure was followed. A plaintiff suing a hospital for negligently retaining a doctor will need to prove facts showing that the hospital administration knew or should have known that the doctor had become incompetent.