When Can a Patient Sue a Hospital for Negligence?

While any injuries sustained, worsened, or not improved within a hospital are cause for concern, there are stipulations regarding what does and does not constitute medical malpractice due to negligence. Understanding whether your case fits the description of medical malpractice can help you decide if you want to pursue a lawsuit for compensation and help you plan a strategy moving forward.

Defining Medical Malpractice

Medical negligence and medical malpractice go hand in hand, so it is important to understand what defines malpractice. There are some general principles involved, but the basic definition is when a patient is harmed by a medical professional who performed his or her duties incompetently.

“Incompetence” can be any action or inaction that another reasonable doctor would not have made under the same circumstances. It can take on a variety of forms, from using improper sanitation methods to misdiagnosing a patient’s condition. To prove that a medical practitioner was negligent in his or her duties, a patient must:

  • Prove that a doctor-patient relationship existed
  • Prove that the health care professional was negligent
  • Prove that this negligence caused the injury

In the event a patient has evidence of all three qualifications, a lawsuit for medical malpractice can be filed.

Suing a Hospital vs. A Doctor

In many medical malpractice lawsuits, the case is against one individual – the doctor who prescribed the wrong medication, the nurse who gave the patient the wrong dosage, or the orderly who spread germs through improper hygiene. However, there is a significant difference in who a patient can sue, depending on whether it was the doctor’s fault or the fault of another hospital employee.

If any hospital employee was doing a job-related duty at the time of the patient’s injury, the hospital could be sued for damages. If, however, the doctor is responsible for the negligence, the hospital cannot be sued, since the doctor is typically not an employee at the hospital.

Doctors can have different relationships with the hospital where they work, including being independent contractors in the eyes of the law, which is usually the case. As an independent contractor, the doctor works for him- or herself, and not the hospital. If this is the case, a patient suing the doctor for malpractice would not be able to extend the lawsuit to the hospital.

If, however, a doctor is an employee of the hospital, the hospital can be sued, as it would be if any other employee was responsible. You can usually tell if a doctor is an employee or an independent contractor if the hospital controls their working hours and vacation time, or if the hospital is in charge of the doctor’s fees. In these situations, the doctor is technically part of the hospital, and the entire establishment is under fire.

There are exceptions; for example, if the doctor is an independent contractor but it appears he or she was an employee or if the hospital kept an incompetent or dangerous doctor on staff. Many factors go into the decision about whether negligence will fall on the shoulders of a single doctor or the entire hospital. It’s best to consult a professional for help if you think you have a negligence case on your hands.

Your Kansas City Medical Malpractice Attorneys

Contact the attorneys at Dickerson Oxton, LLC right away, if you or a loved one was the victim of medical negligence that resulted in injury or wrongful death. Our team has over a decade of experience in intricate medical malpractice cases in Kansas City and understands what you and your family are going through. For passionate, effective representation, choose a Kansas City medical malpractice lawyer who cares about your wellbeing and is skilled at medical law. Call us today for your free consultation, and see what a difference a caring attorney can make.