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Medical Malpractice: Who Can Be Sued?

You may have a medical malpractice claim if you sustain an injury during medical treatment or as a result of a misdiagnosis from a healthcare professional. However, a medical malpractice lawsuit is not limited to only a doctor's actions. Hospitals and other entities may be liable for your injuries, as well.

This article explains how hospitals can be held responsible for injuries caused by their employees and other entities that might be liable for medical injuries.

Medical Malpractice Overview

Typical examples of medical malpractice include:

  • A doctor or healthcare professional directly related to medical care makes a medical error and causes a personal injury to the patient
  • A doctor incorrectly reads a patient's medical records and then misdiagnoses the patient

The following healthcare professionals may be liable for medical malpractice:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Health care facilities
  • Insurance companies
  • Pharmacists

In a medical malpractice suit, a plaintiff will need to prove the fault that led to a personal injury. This analysis relies on a healthcare professional's actions, but there are also situations where the hospital itself can be held responsible.


Hospitals can be directly liable for negligent hiring and employment practices that lead to medical errors. They can also be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of an employee. In vicarious liability, an employer is responsible for the negligence of someone else, often an employee.

Hospital Negligence

A hospital's medical staff includes licensed physicians and licensed healthcare providers, such as nurses, physician's assistants, and nurse practitioners.

Tort law requires people and entities to uphold certain standards of care, tailored to the situation. For example, hospitals have a duty to use reasonable care when hiring medical staff. A hospital must make reasonable inquiries into an applicant's education, training, and licensing.

If a hospital fails to make reasonable inquiries about an applicant they hire and that employee injures a patient, the hospital may be liable. Under the corporate negligence doctrine, a hospital is negligent for supervision or retention. When a staff member's negligent care injures a patient, corporate negligence applies.

A hospital may be found negligent in the following cases:

  • Failing to investigate the attending physician's credentials before granting the physician privileges at the hospital
  • Allowing an incompetent physician to treat patients at the hospital if the hospital knew or should have known that the physician was incompetent

Hospitals also have a duty to provide adequate numbers of staff on duty. For example, the ratio of registered nurses to patients is essential to maintain quality patient care. A hospital may be liable for injuries to patients resulting from a nursing shortage.

Hospitals are also liable when employees fail to follow orders from a private physician. If an employee finds a private physician's orders questionable but fails to clarify, the hospital may be liable.

Vicarious Liability

When a hospital employee's medical negligence causes a personal injury to a patient, the hospital may be held vicariously liable. This is the legal doctrine of respondeat superior.

Under respondeat superior, an employer may be liable for the negligent acts of its employee. Liability arises if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment when the negligent act or omission occurred. This doctrine is very important to plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases. It helps ensure there will be a financially responsible party to compensate an injured plaintiff.

In some situations, healthcare providers (physicians, etc.) are independent contractors, not hospital employees. Independent contractors are self-employed or employed by another company, not the hospital. If a healthcare provider is an independent contractor, respondeat superior will not apply.

In general, a hospital is not liable for a doctor's negligence if the doctor is an independent contractor because the hospital is not the doctor's employer. However, a hospital may be liable for an independent contractor in emergency rooms and outpatient facilities.

Prescription Drug Injuries

When prescribing a medication or medical device, physicians have a duty to advise the patient of the risks and side effects. The prescribing physician is known as a learned intermediary, which means the prescribing physician is a medical expert and can determine whether a drug or device is appropriate for a patient. If they fail to provide the proper warnings or prescribe a drug that they should know will injure their patient, this can lead to a medical malpractice claim.

pharmaceutical manufacturer may be liable where a drug causes a patient's injury if the manufacturer fails to warn physicians of the drug's potential side effects or dangers. However, injuries related to dangerous drugs and defective medical devices are generally addressed through product liability claims.

A pharmaceutical manufacturer's primary duty is to physicians. A manufacturer will not be liable for a patient's injuries if the physician knows the risks associated with a particular drug. The pharmaceutical company owes a duty to consumers and patients to ensure the medication is reasonably safe when used as intended.

To ensure a drug's safety, the manufacturer must research the drug's possible side effects and risks before putting it on the market. A drug becomes unreasonably dangerous if a pharmaceutical manufacturer fails to adequately warn a physician of a drug's dangers. The manufacturer may be liable for the failure to provide proper warnings.

Get a Claim Evaluation From a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Do you think you have a potential medical malpractice claim? Are you unsure who is liable? Who should you sue for a standard of care issue? A qualified medical malpractice attorney can help you answer these questions.

It is important to be mindful that there may be a statute of limitations in which you can file a case in court. State laws for deadlines differ, and your time may be limited to sue for medical malpractice.

A skilled attorney in medical malpractice law can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case, find expert witnesses, get expert testimony, and advise you about who will make the best defendant(s). A great first move is to get a claim evaluation from a medical malpractice lawyer.

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