When suing for medical negligence, one of the elements a plaintiff needs to prove is the medical professional’s duty of care, or their legal obligation to act in a standard or reasonable way. Then it must be shown that the defendant failed to follow their duty of care as required by law.
Unless there is a special relationship, such as the doctor-patient relationship, there is no affirmative duty to assist injured individuals. Once a doctor-patient relationship is established, then the doctor owes the patient a duty of care and treatment with a degree of skill, care, and diligence that is possessed by or expected or a reasonably competent physician under the same or similar circumstances.
“Circumstances” include the type of medicine the physician practice, the customary and accepted practice of other physicians in the geographic area (the “locality rule”), the equipment and facilities available in the locality at the time of treatment, and exigent circumstances that surround the treatment or medical services render, if any existed.
A negligent doctor may not be the only defendant of a lawsuit. The hospital that retained the negligent doctor on its staff may be vicariously liable for that doctor’s negligence. Under the theory of “respondeat superior” the employer is often held liable for the negligence of its employees.
However, it is more often the case that the doctor has “staff privileges” at the hospital. The hospital will then attempt to prove that it had a limited role in directing or supervising the doctor’s work. Many doctors do belong to a private medical practice, such as a limited partnership or limited liability company, which may also be vicariously liable for the negligence committed by their member doctors.
If the doctor’s assistances and/or staff who carry out the doctor’s orders in caring for the patient are negligent, then the doctor is generally liable for their actions. Additionally, attending physicians are also generally liable for the negligence of interns and medical students that are under the physicians’ guidance, and assumed their duty of care.
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