How Hard Is It to Sue a Hospital?
People collectively expect hospitals to be above reproach. They are, after all, where patients go when they need the most dire of help. But if a Baltimore hospital team member makes the wrong call or administers the wrong treatment, you might have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Licensed professionals may be responsible for the mistake, but typically, the hospital is ultimately responsible for the training and actions of its employees.
Malpractice Lawsuit FAQs: How Hard Is It to Sue a Hospital in Baltimore?
It is very possible to sue a hospital for medical malpractice – and win. Using a long-standing legal theory known as “respondeat superior,” a hospital is often liable for any employee that harms or hurts a patient with incompetent actions. In other words, a hospital can typically be sued for any employee negligence that results in harm to a patient.
Some of the most visible hospital staff members include patient advocates, medical technicians, and nurses. Of course, a number of other team members can also be found in these vast facilities. The point is this: the hospital is at risk for a lawsuit if any employee performing a job-related task causes an injury to you. It is therefore critical that you contact an attorney the moment you suspect negligence.
A Ready Example
Let’s say a registered nurse who works for the hospital administers the wrong medical through your IV push. In turn, you suffer an allergic reaction or other harm that leads to a significant injury. It’s very likely the hospital could be held liable for that nurse’s mistake.
This scenario becomes less clear if a doctor acts in error and harms a patient while working a hospital shift. The hospital is typically liable for malpractice only if the doctor is an employee (we’ll cover this more in just a moment). Additionally, a hospital staff member who injures a patient while following doctor’s orders does not always put the hospital at risk for a lawsuit. Instead, the patient may be able to sue only the doctor, if the doctor is not an agent, servant and/or employee of the hospital.
The Concept of Doctor Supervision
Determining whether the employee acted under a doctor’s supervision depends on two critical factors. First, the doctor must have been present at the time the patient’s injury occurred. Second, it must be proven the doctor should have been in control of the treatment situation so as to prevent the employee’s negligence.
Here’s an example to help you understand. Imagine a patient goes into surgery with a lead surgeon and a team of nurses. That patient then emerges from the procedure with a surgical sponge still remaining in their body. One of the nurses miscounted the sponges, leading the surgeon to believe all had been retrieved during the procedure. In this instance, the surgeon may be held liable for the nurse’s negligence and the patient’s subsequent injuries.
Employee or Independent Contractor
One of the first steps in a medical malpractice case is identifying whether the doctor is an employee or independent contractor. This point is critical as it determines whether the hospital itself or merely the doctor can be sued when substandard care causes patient harm. A doctor is likely an employee if the hospital decides that doctor’s compensation and/or controls their working hours and vacation time.
On the other hand, if a doctor employs themselves or is employed by another entity that provides his compensation and benefits, they’re likely an independent contractor. This means any acts of negligence they commit are their own, and the hospital likely cannot be held responsible even if the negligence occurred within that facility.
Exceptions to the Rule
Of course, exceptions to rules exist in nearly every facet of the law, and malpractice is no exception. A hospital can be held liable in certain situations even if the doctor is an independent contractor.
To illustrate, if the hospital does not clarify whether the doctor is an employee or independent contractor, you may be able to sue both for malpractice. Hospitals may try to avoid this problem by stating in a patient’s admissions forms the doctor’s exact relationship to the hospital. But those forms are not always provided in a timely manner, and they are sometimes forgotten all together.
Emergency Room Visits
Patients seen in the emergency room can likewise often sue both the attending physician and hospital for acts of negligence. Prior to administering treatment, the hospital rarely has the chance to inform ER patients if their doctor is an employee or an independent contractor. This opens the door for broader malpractice suits.
An Incompetent Staff Member
The hospital may also be liable if it provides staff privileges to an incompetent or dangerous doctor. This is true even if that doctor is an independent contractor.
Imagine hospital managers knew a Baltimore doctor was abusing alcohol or drugs but continued to let the doctor see patients in their facility. If that doctor injured a patient, both the hospital and physician could likely be named in a malpractice lawsuit.
Understanding Medical Malpractice
Patients sometimes believe a simple mistake constitutes medical malpractice. Or, if they’re unhappy with a treatment regimen or its outcome, they will similarly try to pursue a malpractice case. But to have a real legal claim, you must be able to show your health care provider failed to meet a medical standard care and that the failure created measurable harm for you.
This brings us to our next point: malpractice specifically occurs when a medical professional – including a doctor or nurse – injures a patient by rendering substandard treatment. The most common events that give rise to malpractice cases include:
- Anesthesia errors
- Surgical mistakes
- Childbirth injuries
- Medication errors
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
The Medical Standard of Care
The medical standard of care provides a legal measuring stick that helps identify when a doctor has behaved negligently. This standard is typically defined as the care a patient would have received from a skilled and reasonably competent provider with similar training and within the same medical community as the accused provider.
In short, your Baltimore attorney will consider if another provider with similar skills and knowledge would have given you the same treatment under similar circumstances. If you and your attorney ultimately decide the answer is no, and the sub-standard treatment you received gave way to harm, you may have a medical malpractice case.
A malpractice lawsuit almost always relies on the testimony of an expert medical witness. This person explains what the appropriate standard of care should have been – meaning they identify the diagnosis and treatment you should have received from a reasonably competent provider. They also clarify how the provider’s deviation from that standard gave way to your injuries.
In Maryland, all malpractice cases require the validation of expert testimony. Not only does this witness help explain complex medical terms in a way the court can understand, but they also keep “frivolous” lawsuits from disrupting the legal process. But you can’t select just any “expert” to testify. That person must have experience in the same or similar medical field as the defendant and be a board-certified practitioner who currently sees patients.
To recap, it is entirely possible to sue a hospital for medical malpractice. The key is in establishing whether your physician acted as an employee or independent contractor of that hospital. Once this determination is made, your lawyer can move forward with proving your claim, including hiring an expert medical witness to provide testimony. Learn more, and get the legal representation you need, by contacting Peter Angelos Law today.