Medical Malpractice: Who Can Be Sued?

Indeed, the liability on medical malpractice is not applicable to only doctors. It can apply to other medical professionals like nurses, anesthesiologists, health care facilities, pharmaceutical companies, and others that provide health care services.


Hospitals are corporations that are either public or private entities. Even if hospitals are just juridical persons, they can still be liable for medical practice because of the concept called vicarious liability. Vicarious liability means a party is held responsible not for its own negligence, but for the negligence of another.

Hospital Negligence

The staff of a hospital will include licensed physicians and other licensed health care providers, such as nurses, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners. It is the duty of the hospital to ensure that its employees are skilled and properly educated. ┬áIf a hospital fails to make reasonable inquiries regarding a member of its medical staff, it might be held liable under the “corporate negligence” doctrine for negligent supervision or retention, if the staff member’s negligent care injures a patient. In spite of not being a natural person, a hospital can also be made liable for negligence if it is unable to see the disqualifications in the employees that it hires.

Hospitals are also required to ensure that there is a sufficient number of registered nurses on duty at all times to maintain quality patient care. A hospital that fails to do so may be held liable for injuries to patients resulting from a nursing shortage. Another area of potential liability arises when a hospital’s employees fail to follow the orders of a patient’s private attending physician. Conversely, if a hospital employee finds a private physician’s treatment plan to be clearly contraindicated, but fails to make a reasonable inquiry of the physician as to the treatment plan, the hospital could also be found liable.

The hospitals need to provide their patients, sufficient care and medication, for them to be able to survive their conditions. In the area of admissions, hospitals are generally required to treat seriously injured or ill people on an emergency basis, and the refusal to do so may result in hospital liability. The public hospitals are also prohibited from ignoring possible patients just because they do not have sufficient finances to pay their hospital bills.

Vicarious Liability

When a hospital employee’s malpractice injures a patient, the hospital itself may be held vicariously liable under the legal doctrine of “respondeat superior.” Under this doctrine, an employer may be held liable for the negligent acts of its employee, if the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the negligent act or omission occurred. This concept in law is extremely important because it is what allows the victim or injured party to know from whom he can claim compensation.

In some situations, health care providers such as physicians are considered independent contractors rather than hospital employees, and the doctrine of “respondeat superior” will not be applicable. What this means is, if a doctor or other health care professional is an independent contractor, and commits malpractice while treating a patient in a hospital, the hospital cannot be held liable for the doctor’s negligence. However, the hospital can be held liable for its own negligence, for example, in granting attending privileges to an unlicensed or incompetent physician.

In some situations, other than respondeat superior, a hospital can also be held liable using the principle of vicarious liability.

Pharmaceutical Companies

In some cases, a pharmaceutical manufacturer may be liable where a drug caused a patient injuries, but only if the manufacturer failed to warn physicians of the drug’s potential side effects or dangers.

A pharmaceutical manufacturer’s primary duty is to physicians. Thus, a manufacturer generally will not be liable for a patient’s injuries, as long as it adequately informed the physician of all risks associated with a particular drug. As to the ultimate consumer, a pharmaceutical company only owes a duty to ensure that the medication it manufactures will be 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. There is a liability on the part of the pharmacist if he has failed to inform the patient of possible side effects of the drug that he will intake. This is part of the professional responsibility of a medical professional.

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