When Doctors Make Mistakes: What Are Your Rights If a Surgery Leaves You with a Disability?
If you’re injured during a surgery or other medical procedure, can you file a claim against the hospital for medical malpractice or negligence? Though medical facilities are typically responsible for improper care provided by nurses and technicians, they’re often not liable for a doctor’s malpractice. Here, you’ll learn when hospitals are (and aren’t) responsible for errors committed by doctors, anesthesiologists, and other medical providers.
The Hospital is Liable for Its Employees’ Actions
If someone is employed by the hospital, that facility is responsible if the employee causes harm through incompetence. However, not every accident or mistake happening in a hospital constitutes negligence. Typically, medical technicians, nurses, and other support staff are considered hospital employees. As long as the injury occurred during the course of the employee’s normal duties, you can sue for your damages. If a doctor’s mistake injures you, though, you can’t sue the hospital unless the doctor is classified as an employee.
Furthermore, if an employee commits medical malpractice under the doctor’s supervision, you can sue the doctor, but not the hospital. An employee’s supervision depends on these factors:
- Whether the physician was in the room, and
- Whether the doctor could prevent the negligent act
For instance, a surgeon could be held liable if the attending nurse miscounts surgical implements, causing the surgeon to leave one inside a patient.
Is the Physician Employed by the Hospital?
This is the most important question when determining whether you can sue the hospital when you’re left disabled after a surgery. A doctor’s status depends on the extent of their relationship with the hospital. Though some physicians are employed by hospitals, most are not. Rather, they’re considered independent contractors, which means that Darras Law can’t hold the hospital responsible for their mistakes. A doctor is considered an employee if the hospital controls their vacation time, work hours, and fees.
Exceptions to the Rule
Even if the hospital wouldn’t usually be liable for a doctor’s mistakes, it can be held liable in some situations, such as those listed here.
- The facility appeared to employ the doctor: If a facility doesn’t make it clear that the doctor isn’t an employee, you can sue for malpractice. Hospitals usually sidestep this issue by adding a clause to their admissions forms. However, if you’ve had surgery after an ER visit, you may be able to sue the hospital because there likely was no chance to tell you about the doctor’s status.
- The hospital keeps incompetent physicians on staff: Some states hold hospitals responsible if they give staff privileges to dangerous and incompetent doctors, even if they’re independent contractors. Hospitals are also liable if they know (or should have known) that a previously safe physician had become dangerous or incompetent.
Seeking Legal Help for a Surgery-Connected Disability
Most of us go into the hospital expecting to be well taken care of, but doctors and medical staff are only human, which means that mistakes sometimes occur. Some of these errors are relatively minor, but others cause lifelong debilitating effects and disability. Every case is different, as are malpractice laws from one jurisdiction to another. Because medical malpractice cases are so complex, it’s important to seek advice and representation from a qualified attorney.