Though hospitals are typically thought of as medical establishments that are safe and promote health and healing, they are not immune from being the cause of accidents and injury. Since patients are usually vulnerable while admitted, courts will typically consider accidents as foreseeable events in personal injury lawsuits.
The following are a few hospital accident statistics that have been compiled in recent years:
- Johns Hopkins released a study that estimates 250,000 people die annually from medical errors, whereas the Journal of Patient Safety estimates the death toll at 440,000.
- Medical errors are among the leading causes of death in the United States.
- Louisiana has the most medical malpractice lawsuits filed per 100,000 residents in the U.S., at 44.1.
- One in three patients admitted to a hospital suffers medical error.
- In 2016, an Illinois jury awarded $53 million in damages for future expenses of a boy who suffered a brain injury resulting in cerebral palsy at birth.
- “Never events” such as wrong site, wrong patient, and wrong surgery events occur at a rate of 40 times per week in hospitals nationwide.
- In 2016, the largest settlement for medical malpractice in California history was awarded to a mother and her 3-year-old child. After being born prematurely, the child suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy from a feeding-tube error. They were awarded $20 million in damages.
- The rate of payouts on medical malpractice claims dropped 56% between 1992 and 2014, but the average payout per claim rose 23%, rounding out to around $353,000 from roughly $287,000 per claim in the mid-1990s.
- Medical complications from hospital accidents cost Medicare roughly $4.4 billion annually.
What Is Hospital Negligence?
Hospital negligence happens when a hospital or health care facility fails to observe the duty of care they owe to patients in dealing with those patients. A person may be able to file a negligence claim against the hospital if the hospital breaches that duty.
Many medical malpractice claims involve injuries caused by a physician or other healthcare professionals. Nevertheless, in a claim for hospital negligence, the medical institution itself is being sued. Therefore, there may be a high likelihood that more than one individual was affected by the hospital’s negligence. If the hospital is liable for negligence, they may have to compensate the plaintiff for their losses or injuries.
What Are Some Examples of Hospital Negligence?
Hospital negligence can occur in two primary forms:
- The direct negligence of the hospital, or;
- The negligence of a worker that the hospital was vicariously liable for.
In the first instance, the direct acts of the hospital result in a breach of duty to the patient.
In the second type, it is not the hospital that performed the negligent act but rather an employee of the hospital. Nevertheless, the hospital may be held liable if the employee acted while under the hospital’s control or if the hospital instructed the employee’s actions. This is known as “vicarious liability” and requires several additional elements to be proved.
Examples of a hospital engaging in direct negligence include:
- Failing to ensure that hospital staff meet the required standards for licenses, training, and education
- Failing to ensure that non-employees, such as independent contractors or attending physicians, in the hospital meet the appropriate credentials
- Not keeping enough staff, nurses, or doctors to ensure the proper level of patient care
- Losing, mishandling, or unlawfully transferring confidential patient records
Some examples of a hospital’s vicarious liability can include:
- A nurse or technician giving a patient the incorrect medication or an improper dosage
- Negligent care in operation, such as leaving an object in the patient’s body
- A health worker administering medicine when they knew or should have known that the patient may have an allergic reaction
- Improper treatment/dressing of wounds
- Disregarding proper medical care standards
When the hospital negligence claim is based on vicarious liability, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the negligent employee was acting under the control or direction of the hospital facility. Otherwise, the hospital may not be liable for the employee’s negligence.
What Can I Recover from a Hospital Negligence Claim?
In a successful negligence claim against a hospital, the plaintiff may be able to recover losses such as hospital bills, further expenses associated with the injuries, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity. Punitive damages are generally not awarded in negligence claims since the defendant is usually not acting intentionally.
Are Hospitals Accountable for Unforeseeable Actions?
The rule of vicarious liability sometimes holds hospitals responsible for the actions of their employees whose actions were unforeseen. These include:
- The hospital had control over the employees during work hours: Because the hospital had control over the actions of their employees, they should be held responsible.
- The hospital benefits from the employee’s actions: The employee brings in profits for the hospital. Therefore, the hospital should be liable for any losses.
Are There Any Defenses a Hospital Might Use Against Vicarious Liability?
A hospital can use several defenses if sued under a theory of vicarious liability. These defenses include, but are not limited to:
- The worker was not an employee under the hospital’s control and direction.
- The employee was not acting within the scope of employment.
- The hospital took appropriate precautions to limit an employee’s offending behavior, such as providing proper training.
- Applicable defenses in other civil liability cases, such as contributory negligence.
How Can an Injured Person Prove Vicarious Liability of a Hospital?
Injured people that wish to hold hospitals accountable for the actions of their workers have to establish three elements:
- The employee agreement required the employee to work under the direction and control of the hospital.
- The hospital had the inherent authority to control the employee.
- The employee’s actions are within the scope of employment.
The burden of proof rests on the individual wanting to hold the hospital accountable. Thus, getting proper records about the scope of employment is essential.
What Is Scope of Employment?
Typically, the scope of employment requires that an employee is acting as expected under the terms of their employment. The scope of a hospital worker’s employment varies according to the specifications and responsibilities of each job.
There are several cases where a hospital worker may be outside the scope of employment:
- Independent Contractors: Workers who perform for the hospital but are not legally employees. These could include surgeons or doctors.
- Frolic: Employees who engage in behavior outside of the expected terms of employment. For instance, an employee expected to deliver medical supplies goes to watch a movie instead and becomes involved in an auto accident on the way to the theater.
- Illegal Acts: Illegal acts, such as assault, fall outside the scope of employment. However, some occupations may still subject the employer to liability. A hospital, for example, could be held liable for a security guard’s assault on a patient.
Getting Legal Help for Your Hospital Accident
If you have been injured in a hospital accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney immediately. An experienced attorney will help build your case, represent your best interests in court, and fight for the compensation you are entitled to. Do not hesitate any longer. Use LegalMatch to put an end to your hospital injury woes today.