Responsible Parties in Medical Malpractice Actions

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Responsible Parties in Medical Malpractice Actions

Medical malpractice actions are not strictly limited to medical doctors. They can also be brought against nurses, dentists, osteopaths, health care facilities, chiropractors, naturopaths, complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) providers and others providing medical services, such as clinics, surgery centers and nursing homes. If you believe that you have been harmed by the negligence of any health care provider, do not delay in contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Scott & Cain, Attorneys at Law in Knoxville, TN.

Individual providers: doctors, nurses and other health care professionals

In addition to doctors and surgeons, a variety of other health care professionals, including dentists, psychiatrists, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, chiropractors and complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) providers, can be held liable for medical malpractice. A successful medical malpractice case against any health care provider must prove the same elements as one against a physician, namely that:

  • The provider owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
  • The provider breached that duty by deviating from the standard of care
  • The plaintiff suffered injury
  • The plaintiff's injury was causally connected to the provider's breach of duty

Hospitals; vicarious liability

In the context of medical malpractice actions, hospitals can be held directly liable for their own negligence. Hospitals and clinics can also be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees. "Vicarious liability" means a party is held responsible not for its own negligence, but rather for the negligence of another, usually in the context of an employer/employee relationship.

Direct hospital negligence

When hiring medical staff, a hospital must make reasonable inquiries into an applicant's education, training, background and licensing. If a hospital fails to perform due diligence in teh hiring process, it might be held liable under the "corporate negligence" doctrine for negligent supervision or retention when a staff member's malpractice injures a patient. A hospital could be responsible for its own negligence if, for example, it fails to investigate the credentials of an attending physician before granting him or her privileges or where it allows a physician whom it knew (or should have known) was incompetent to treat patients there.

Hospitals are also required to ensure that there is a sufficient number of doctors and registered nurses on duty at all times to maintain quality patient care. A hospital that fails to do so may be held liable for injuries to patients resulting from a staff shortage.

Another area of potential liability arises when a hospital's employees fail to follow the orders of a patient's private attending physician and the patient is injured as a result of that failure. Conversely, if a hospital employee finds a private physician's treatment plan to be clearly contraindicated, but fails to make a reasonable inquiry of the physician regarding the proposed treatment, the hospital could also be found liable.

Finally, hospitals may be held liable for failing to protect patients from harm, failing to adequately perform clinical tests, neglecting to keep accurate medical records, and not properly admitting or discharging patients. In the area of admissions, hospitals are generally required to treat seriously injured or ill people on an emergency basis even if those people are uninsured; the refusal to do so may result in hospital liability. Additionally, federal and state statutes prohibit hospitals from refusing to treat or admit people based on their race, color, religion or national origin, or on their inability to pay for treatment.

Vicarious liability

When a hospital employee's malpractice injures a patient, the hospital itself may be held vicariously liable under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. Under this doctrine, an employer may be held liable for the negligence of an employee, provided the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the negligent acts or omissions occurred. This doctrine is important to many medical malpractice cases, because it helps ensure there will be a financially responsible party to compensate an injured plaintiff.

If the negligent physician, nurse, technician or other provider is an independent contractor working at the hospital but not an employee of the facility, then the doctrine of respondeat superior will not apply. This means that the hospital cannot be held liable for that provider's negligence. This doesn't mean that the hospital is wholly without blame, however. The hospital could still be partially responsible if, for example, it granted attending privileges to an unlicensed or incompetent physician, or one whose license to practice medicine had been suspended or revoked.

The liability of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)

A number of courts have considered the question of whether HMOs can be held liable for the negligence of a member physician. Essentially, medical malpractice claims against HMOs proceed under the same theories as cases against hospitals. The first theory is direct negligence, namely that the HMO is liable for negligent hiring, supervision or retention of a doctor accused of malpractice. Another approach is to pursue a claim based on an agency theory (like vicarious liability or respondeat superior). It is important to note that some malpractice claims against HMOs could be preempted by state or federal law. These preemption provisions are a way to protect HMOs chartered under state law from huge jury awards.

Contact a medical malpractice lawyer

If you or someone you love has been injured as a result of the negligent acts or omissions of a health care provider, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can see you through the complicated legal maze of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Contact a medical malpractice attorney at Scott & Cain, Attorneys at Law in Knoxville, TN, today.

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