Should I Sue the Doctor or the Hospital for Medical Malpractice?

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When you have been injured by your healthcare provider, who to hold responsible may be confusing.  In general, when we file lawsuits for injured patients, we will include all parties who are possibly at fault.  That means the hospital, doctor, doctor’s practice, as well as individual nurses and staff members who may be responsible for your injuries.  Ultimately, the law may narrow which parties are responsible.  This is not something to worry about.  The experienced Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm explain who is at fault in a surgical injury, failure to diagnose, or other medical malpractice case.

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Does my Doctor Work for the Hospital?

In many cases, the biggest confusion is who your doctor works for.  Ultimately, you pay your doctor for their services, but it may not be clear who their boss is.

When you are injured because of someone’s on-the-job negligence, you can usually sue both the employee and the employer.  In many ways, the employee represents the employer, so the employee’s negligence is also the employer’s negligence.  This is clear in cases like slip and falls, where a negligent store worker might leave a spill in an aisle.  In that case, it is clear that the store worker was a representative of the store, and the worker’s negligence was the store’s negligence.

When you hold one party (like an employer) liable for the actions of another party (like an employee), it is known as “vicarious liability.”  Pennsylvania’s rule comes from an old legal doctrine called “respondeat superior.”  This doctrine says that an employer can be held liable for the actions of their employees, when the employee’s actions are “within the scope of their duties.”  For something like a medical professional, the scope of their duties would include any of the medical services they provide.  If a doctor were negligent while off-duty, that would not be “within the scope of their duties,” so their employer would not be liable for their failure.

In the healthcare industry, things are not as clear.  Many doctors work for private practices.  These practices are often owned and operated by the doctors themselves, as partners.  Depending on how the medical practice was set-up, the doctor’s negligence might not be shared among the other partners.  Regardless, a private practice doctor is not a hospital employee, so their negligence would not likely allow you to sue the hospital.

Other doctors are indeed hospital employees.  Especially in the emergency department or trauma department, many Pennsylvania hospitals put doctors “on staff.”  When these doctors give negligent care, the hospital can be held vicariously liable as their employer.  Many nurses, orderlies, and other medical staff are also hospital employees.

Can I Sue the Hospital Anyway?

In short, you may still have a case against the hospital, even when the doctor who injured you works for a private practice.  The hospital likely owns all of the facilities in which your injury took place, such as recovery rooms, operating rooms, or other medical facilities.  They also usually own diagnostic machines like X-ray machines, CT scanners, and MRI machines.  Failures based on these tests may be the hospital’s fault.  Plus, nurses, orderlies, and other medical staff are often hospital employees, meaning their negligence could be the hospital’s fault, as the employer.

Hospitals are responsible for keeping their facilities clean and safe for patients.  Many malpractice cases involve infection and other hazards that commonly occur in hospitals.  These kinds of issues are within the hospital’s control, and the hospital may be responsible for this kind of negligent care.

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Although your doctor may work for a private practice, you may still have a case against the hospital for the doctor’s negligence.  Sometimes it is very difficult to tell who the doctor works for.  Especially if your only encounter with the doctor is during a medical emergency, you may never meet the doctor outside the hospital.  Some private practices have their own offices, with their own names and logos, but during an emergency, your only encounter with the doctor may be at the hospital.

In that situation, you have little to no way of knowing that the doctor is not a hospital employee.  Especially if the hospital staff or doctor gave you that impression, and failed to correct it, you may still be able to sue the hospital as though they were actually the doctor’s employer.

Some hospitals have office space, even for private practices.  Others make sure that any doctors within their “hospital network” use their logos and brand names.  Though the doctor’s practice may be legally independent from the hospital, this kind of confusion can let you hold the hospital liable anyway.

Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Attorneys are Available

If you have been injured or you lost a loved one to negligent medical treatment, talk to an attorney.  The lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm have decades of experience helping injured patients with their medical malpractice cases against hospitals and doctors, and could help you too.  For a free consultation, contact our lawyers today at (215) 246-9000.

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