Imagine you go to the hospital for a routine hernia surgery, but you wake up to the horror of being seriously injured. Something went wrong during the surgery, and now you need more costly operations to correct the problem.
It’s clear that your surgeon made several errors on the operating table as a direct result of his negligence, which caused your injuries, and he is probably liable. But what about the hospital? Can you sue the hospital, too?
When it comes to a medical malpractice lawsuit, a hospital will often be liable for an on-staff surgeon’s actions. That is, if the surgeon was an employee of the hospital itself then the hospital can be held liable for the surgeon’s errors via the legal concept of “vicarious liability.” What vicarious liability means is that an employer that profits from its employees’ actions is also responsible and liable for damages caused by that employee’s actions when he or she makes a mistake.
Hospitals are required to reasonably inquire about all their employees’ level of experience, education, licensing and training. Hospitals are also required to investigate the backgrounds of the surgeons they employ. As such, if a surgeon makes mistakes and he or she was not appropriately licensed, trained or has a history of making errors in the past, the hospital could be financially liable for neglecting to rule out this surgeon from employment. In this respect, the hospital was negligent for endangering the patients at the hospital by employing an unqualified or inappropriate surgeon.
Even if the hospital did everything that it was supposed to and all of the errors and negligence were the fault of the surgeon, vicarious liability will still come into play due to the ancient legal doctrine of “respondeat superior.” This doctrine means that the employer must respond for and take responsibility for its employees’ misdeeds and/or negligence.
The hospital will not be liable for all surgical errors. For example, if your surgeon was an independent contractor and merely using the surgical space at the hospital, vicarious liability may not apply. It’s important, however, to review every medical negligence case to identify all potentially liable parties in order to name them as defendants in a medical malpractice claim.