Hospital and HMO Liability
Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, or other health care practitioner falls below the acceptable standard of care, and the patient is injured because of this negligence or incompetence. But it is not only the healthcare professional who may be held liable. There are instances where hospitals and other facilities, and even HMOs, may be liable for medical malpractice.
Generally speaking, employers are liable for the negligence of their employees, and the same holds true for hospitals in relation to the myriad of health care workers employed there. This applies to hospitals, urgent care centers, ambulatory and outpatient surgery centers, treatment centers, and similar facilities. In addition to being liable for their employees negligence, a hospital may also be held liable when it did not have proper policies and procedures in place to prevent accidents from occurring, such as a chart being misread, the wrong medication administered, the wrong baby sent home, or the wrong surgery performed. Hospitals refer to these mistakes as sentinel events or “never events,” because they are never supposed to happen, but they do in fact happen, hundreds or thousands of times every year.
While hospitals can be liable for the malpractice committed by their employees, cases involving malpractice by doctors or surgeons on-site can be more complicated. Some doctors may be true employees at the hospital, while others are independent contractors with privileges to practice at the hospital. While the doctor may be liable for his or her negligence regardless, the hospital may additionally be liable only if the doctor was an employee. The standard test for an employee versus an independent contractor is how much control and supervision the employer is allowed to exercise over the person’s work. In the case of professionals, and especially highly-specialized medical professionals, it can be difficult to define the appropriate level of supervision and determine a doctor’s status in relation to the hospital.
Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are the gatekeepers between patients and the medical care they receive. Patients often seek or decline tests or treatment based on the decision by the HMO of whether or not it will cover the cost for its member. It is undeniable that cost containment plays a factor in the HMO’s decisionmaking process over what tests and treatment protocols are covered. Of course, if conditions go untreated or undiagnosed, serious medical complications can occur. When the refusal to pay for diagnostic tests or treatment for economic reasons results in injuries, the HMO may be liable for the damages caused.