How to Sue a Hospital
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Bridget Molitor, J.D. | Last reviewed April 24, 2020
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If a hospital gives you the wrong treatment, their staff makes the wrong call, or a loved one dies in their care, you may have options to sue. Although medical professionals may be the ones who actually made the mistake, the hospital is responsible for its employees and their training.
If, however, the doctor who injured you is an independent contractor of the hospital (many are), and their actions are the sole cause of your injuries, then you may not be able to sue the hospital.
Reasons You Can Sue a Hospital
You can decide to file a lawsuit against a hospital for injuries you suffered as a result of problems such as:
- Wrong diagnosis or medical treatment from medical experts
- The wrong medication was given to you
- Mistakes made by medical technicians (failure to sanitize equipment, etc.)
- Surgical errors (surgical instruments being left inside you during surgery, etc.)
- The "standard of care" was not followed
- Negligent actions by a healthcare professional
- Dangerous or negligent actions by hospital staff (reusing equipment or needles, leaving floors wet, stealing or abusing medications)
- Wrongful death of a family member
- Discrimination (a staff member refusing to treat you do to your race, sexual orientation, your nation of origin, etc.)
You generally have between two to six years to sue for hospital negligence. This is called the statute of limitations, and it varies by state.
Suing a Hospital Is Different From Other Medical Malpractice Cases
In some cases, you can sue a hospital despite the doctor being an employee or a contractor. This might apply when:
- The hospital does not make it clear the doctor is not an employee (this is usually explained to you on the admission forms)
- You went to the emergency room (ER) and did not have the time or ability to sign paperwork
- The hospital has incorrect training or hiring for hospital employees
- The hospital is keeping employees that have behavior issues (like substance abuse problems)
The tricky part is that you may be taking action against a doctor, but actually suing the hospital where they work. In fact, it goes one level higher than that. When you sue the doctor or hospital, you will often be dealing with their insurance company.
In rare cases, a doctor may lose their license or go to jail. Or, a hospital could be shut down. But generally, you are suing their insurance company to compensate you for your suffering. This might feel strange, but you are owed for your pain and suffering, and it helps insurance companies understand which doctors are making mistakes. They can choose not to insure the doctor and stop them from practicing, or they can make the doctor pay more for their insurance.
No matter the outcome, you deserve compensation for the situation. Extra physical or emotional pain deserves justice.
Shouldn't I Sue My Doctor?
You may think that because your doctor made a mistake, like a misdiagnosis, you need to go after your doctor in a legal case. This will depend on a few factors:
- Is your doctor an employee or an independent contractor?
- Was the mistake made by nurses, medical tech staff, maintenance, or another employee of the hospital?
- Did the doctor create the treatment and other staff simply followed it?
If the person who made a mistake is an independent contractor, then you must take them to court with a medical malpractice attorney. If they are an actual employee of the hospital that committed medical negligence, then you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital.
It is more common for doctors to be "self-employed" and only contracting at a hospital. They will have to carry their own malpractice insurance, so you would end up fighting their insurance company in court.
It may be possible to prove the hospital is treating the contracting doctor as an employee and is therefore also responsible for your injuries. Perhaps, for example, the hospital chose the doctor's fees or hours. A lawyer can help you make that distinction and determine whether the hospital is liable.
Getting Proof for a Medical Lawsuit
Medical malpractice lawsuits are difficult to prove. You need to show:
- The hospital is responsible, and not just the doctor
- The hospital/its medical professionals owed a duty of care to you and they failed to meet the accepted standard of care
- You were injured as a result of their actions and would not have experienced your injuries otherwise
Determining fault takes expertise and detailed information. You need a medical malpractice lawyer to hear the details of your case and offer legal advice before you can make an educated guess on if you should sue. Most offer a free consultation and can suggest the odds of your case winning.
You may need medical records, dates, records of the job-related mistakes, and more to help prove your case. Your personal injury attorney will handle the medical malpractice lawsuit and will tell you exactly what they need. Without their expertise, it can be hard to know what information is relevant.
They may also call expert witnesses for your case. This involves getting another doctor or specialist to discuss what they would have done for the same case. If they do not agree with how you were treated, it can strengthen your case against the hospital.
Notable Hospital Negligence Cases
Sometimes it is easiest to understand by seeing examples. The following are notable cases where someone sued the hospital:
- York Hospital exposed 1,300 patients to bacteria between 2011 and 2015.
- Cancer misdiagnosis led to organ removal and a lengthy cover-up at KU Hosptial.
- University of Chicago Medical Center was sued for $53 million because of a birth injury.
- Charleston (W.Va.) Area Medical Center and West Virginia University Medical Corporation-Charleston Division are both being sued for harassment and discrimination claims from one doctor.
- Duke University Hospital was sued in 2003 for never checking the blood type of an organ donor and the recipient before surgery.
- Rhode Island Hospital performed operations on the wrong part of three patients' heads in 2007.
- In a 1995 case, the wrong leg was amputated during surgery.
- University of Washington Medical Center left surgical tools inside patients five times in five years.
- A man was not given the correct anesthesia and was awake during surgery in 2006. His family sued Raleigh Anesthesia Associates after he committed suicide a few weeks after surgery.
- A doctor carved his initials into the stomach of a woman during her c-section.
- A doctor could not find the correct spinal rods for surgery and used a screwdriver instead.
Reading about these types of cases can cause a lot of anxiety. Severe cases like these are relatively rare, but they can happen. However, less serious medical problems should not be ignored just because they don't seem "serious enough." If your instincts are telling you something is wrong, then you should investigate your case.
A personal injury lawyer is going to be the best person to have on your side when you seek justice from a hospital — you deserve justice when a hospital makes a mistake with your illness or injury.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney to make sure your rights are protected.