What is Hospital Negligence?
Hospital negligence is a legal term that relates to the failure of a hospital and/or their agents and employees to provide patients with care that meets the standard of care expected by law. It focuses on both the care rendered by individuals and the broader system within the hospital that sets policies and procedures and decides who is qualified to render care within the hospital.
Common Medical Errors
Common medical errors involve direct patient care, such as administering the wrong medication or surgical mistakes, or indirect, such as poor equipment maintenance or failure to maintain sterile conditions. Medical errors occur due to:
- Negligent credentialing: Negligent credentialing arises when hospitals fail to verify the qualifications or history of their medical staff properly, leading to unqualified personnel providing care. For instance, an unqualified surgeon may perform a faulty procedure.
- Improper diagnosis: Misinterpreting test results, failing to alert other providers to positive test results, failing to consider all symptoms, or overlooking a potential diagnosis.
- Medication errors: Administering the wrong medication, dosage, or route; failing to properly monitor patients for adverse reactions.
- Surgical errors: Operating on the wrong body part, leaving surgical instruments inside the patient, or causing unintended injuries during surgery.
- Hospital-acquired infections: The presence of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the hospital environment due to poor infection control can be serious, especially for medically vulnerable patients.
- Staffing deficiencies: Inadequate staff numbers or insufficiently trained staff increases the risk of patient care errors and might lead to critical delays in emergency care, worsening patient outcomes.
- Unsafe premises: Hazardous conditions can exist in a hospital just as in any other commercial business and include wet floors, uneven surfaces or other hazards that can cause patients or visitors to fall and become injured.
Negligence is Malpractice
Hospital negligence or malpractice relates to systemic hospital errors or oversights. Physician or other healthcare negligence or malpractice is when a healthcare provider deviates from the accepted standard of care. Both can put patients at risk for injury or death and may lay the groundwork for a medical negligence or malpractice claim.
Examples of Medical Negligence or Malpractice
When a healthcare provider neglects to deliver the appropriate or acceptable level of care that is normally expected in similar circumstances such as:
- A surgeon mistakenly operates on the wrong body part.
- A doctor fails to diagnose or treat a serious illness or condition in a timely manner.
- A nurse administers the wrong medication or dosage.
- An anesthesiologist fails to properly monitor a patient during surgery.
Examples of Medical Negligence or Malpractice in the Hospital Setting
Some of the most common examples of negligence in the hospital environment are:
- Understaffing or inadequate staff supervision.
- Faulty equipment that injures a patient during surgery or other procedures.
- Improper medication storage or administration.
- Poor communication between medical staff and other healthcare providers, or failure to communicate important information to patients promptly.
- Lapses in infection control, such as improperly maintaining sterilization equipment, leading to patients contracting infections while in the hospital.
- Lack of appropriate policies and procedures to ensure patient safety.
Are Hospitals Liable for Employee Actions?
Hospitals are liable for the actions of their agents and employees. An individual is considered an agent or employee if the hospital has significant control over their work, such as dictating work hours, methods, and conditions. Typical hospital employees include nurses, technicians, laboratory workers, maintenance personnel, and administrators. In certain circumstances, the hospital is liable for employee actions that involve a physician, as detailed below.
Is the Doctor an Employee of the Hospital?
Determining if a doctor is an agent or employee involves examining the nature of their relationship with the hospital. Key indicators include how the doctor is paid, and whether the hospital sets the doctor’s schedule and controls the doctor’s working conditions and duties. Many doctors today practice as independent contractors, although more physicians have become employees and this trend is expected to continue.
When a hospital exercises such control over physicians, they may lose their status as independent contractors, and they would be considered employees. The hospital in those cases would be liable for their actions.
When Hospitals May Be Liable for Non-employee Doctors’ Actions
When the doctor is an independent contractor, the general rule is that hospitals are not directly responsible for that doctor’s negligence.
However, hospitals may be liable for the actions of non-employee doctors under the doctrine of “apparent agency.” This occurs when the hospital presents the doctor as its employee, and the patient reasonably believes the doctor is a hospital employee. In such cases, the hospital can be held responsible for the doctor’s negligence.
Hospitals may be liable for non-employee doctors’ actions if the hospital did not conduct adequate screening or credentialing of those physicians, or if the hospital failed to supervise them properly.
What Happens If a Hospital Keeps an Incompetent Doctor on Staff
If a hospital knowingly keeps an incompetent doctor on staff, it can lead to serious patient harm and potential legal action. Examples include cases where an incompetent physician continued to practice with a history of malpractice, leading to patient injuries or fatalities. The hospital may face lawsuits for negligent retention or supervision of the incompetent doctor.
Contact our NJ Medical Malpractice Law Firm
If you believe that you have been harmed by hospital negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the hospital. However, because these cases can be complex, it is crucial to consult a law firm that has extensive experience in medical malpractice. At Britcher Leone & Sergio, LLC, our team of medical malpractice attorneys will assess the specific details of your case to determine hospital negligence. Contact our office for a free consultation.