Hospital's Can be Liable for a Doctor's Mistake

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys understand the complexities surrounding civil litigation founded in the negligence of a medical professional.  These cases have their own unique standards of proof, statutes of limitations, and limitations as to whom can be liable for a patient’s liability.

First and foremost, in order for a medical professional and or a medical provider to be liable for a patient’s harm, there must have been a doctor patient relationship.  Moreover, in order for the medical professional’s employer to be held liable for the offending doctor’s negligence, there generally must have been an established relationship between the employee and employer.

There are limitations, however.  And there are circumstances under which an employer-hospital might not be liable for the negligent acts of a doctor working at the facility if the offending doctor was not employed by the hospital. 

If this sounds confusing, it is because this area of litigation is difficult for most people other than experienced medical malpractice attorneys.  To illustrate the point of this article, a recent case example will illuminate the answer to the question.

The State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department issued a decision just last week on July 17, 2014 on a case titled Friedland v. Vassar Brothers Medical Center.  The lower court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the appellate court upheld this decision in favor of the injured plaintiff.

Quickly, the facts involve a patient entering a hospital, shivering and complaining of lower back pain.  Doctors diagnosed the patient with a cardiac problem and a procedure was performed that cleared the patient’s right coronary artery.  Nonetheless, the patient continued to show signs of trouble.  Further tests indicated that the patient had a bowel perforation.   Surgery to repair that was commenced; however, a few hours after the surgery, the patient died.  His wife sued the hospital, among others, on his behalf.

The hospital defended on the grounds that the treating doctors were not under the hospital’s employ.  The appellate court quickly cited case law that stated, “a hospital ordinarily may not be held liable for the negligent acts of treating physicians who are not hospital employees”.  But as you know from above, the court held here that the defendant hospital could be held liable under the facts of the present case. 

This is because additional case law holds that “a hospital may face vicarious liability for the acts of independent physicians if the patient enters the hospital through the emergency room and seeks treatment from the hospital, not from a particular physician”. 

That is exactly what happened to the decedent in this case and since the defendant had no evidence to prove that the decedent believed that he was receiving care from a specific doctor, the case could proceed to a jury for a determination based on the evidence. 

But what do you think?  I would love to hear from you!  Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected]  You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com

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