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When is a hospital legally responsible for injured patients?

In the wake of serious injury suffered while in a hospital, the injured patient usually has many questions. How did this happen? Who was at fault? Why can’t I get answers? Who can I hold accountable? What can I do to help myself with recovery?

These questions are good ones, and many times the only way to resolve them is through a medical malpractice lawsuit. By filing a claim for medical malpractice, the injured patient can get help finding out what occurred and who was responsible. Hospitals are often reluctant to disclose their mistakes and mistakes made by doctors. A medical malpractice suit is often the only way for a patient to hold doctors and hospitals accountable for their negligence and discover what really occurred.

Hospital liability in medical malpractice cases

When a serious medical malpractice injury occurs, there is often more than one party at fault. It is likely the surgeon or doctor committed a mistake. Hospital staff could also have contributed to a patient’s injury. The hospital itself can also be responsible in a medical malpractice suit.

There are three ways in which an injured patient can successfully recover in a medical malpractice claim against a hospital:

  • By showing the hospital was directly liable for malpractice because of negligently hiring, supervising, or managing doctors and staff
  • Through “vicarious liability,” a legal theory which holds that a hospital is responsible for the negligence of its doctors
  • Through “ostensible agency,” in which a patient was looking to the hospital for care and the patient reasonably believed the care provider who made the mistake was an employee of the hospital

Vicarious liability means that legally, the hospital is held to have done what its agents (doctors and staff) have done. So any negligence on the part of the doctor is also the responsibility of the hospital.

A recent decision in the Michigan Court of Appeals is helpful to show this theory in action. In its March 26, 2015 decision in Grimmer v. Lee, the appellate court found that the lower court should not have dismissed a case against a hospital on the basis of vicarious liability. In that situation, the court found that even though the case against the doctor was dismissed, the injured patient could still sue the hospital – the principal – for negligence.

Put another way, just because the doctor who was alleged to have committed negligence was no longer a part of the lawsuit, the injured patient could still sue the hospital. This case reaffirms Michigan’s stance on vicarious liability for hospitals in medical malpractice cases.

In addition, even if a doctor is not employed by the hospital directly, but seems to be, the hospital is liable. If, for example, a doctor is an independent contractor but has staff privileges to treat patients, the hospital is still liable for any mistakes that doctor makes ( Grewe v. Mt. Clemens).

Help with recovery

Medical malpractice cases are known for being complicated legal proceedings. For an injured patient to get help with past and future medical bills, lost wages, and other money damages, the ability to sue the hospital at which the patient was injured is a vital part of the case.

At McKeen & Associates, P.C. our team understands the nuances of medical malpractice cases and has years of experience providing legal help for our clients. If you or a loved one suffered because of medical negligence, contact our office to discuss your legal options.

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