Responsible Parties in Birth Injury Cases: Who Can Be Sued?

The liability for birth injury is not merely inclusive to the medical professionals. Hospitals can also be guilty and liable because of the acts of the subordinates they have.


Hospitals are corporations that are either public or private entities. Hospitals can be held accountable over the acts of its employees because of the concept of “vicarious liability.” Vicarious liability means a party is held responsible not for its own negligence, but for the negligence of another.

Hospital Negligence

Nurses, other practitioners, doctor’s assistant would only be some of the hospital employees that can be held liable for medical malpractice. In hiring its medical staff, a hospital must make reasonable inquiries into an applicant’s education, training and licensing. If 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. The liability of the hospital is anchored on the fact that it should have been able to recognize the potential flaws of the employees that it hires. Thus, if the employee lacked the capacity to become a quality medical professional, the hospital can also be held accountable.

It is the duty of the hospital management that the hospital would always have sufficient number of medical professionals and nurses to assist and serve the patients and those who are in need of help. 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. If the treatment plan that has been suggested by a hospital is found to be not effective and even harmful to the patient, it is also a liability on the part of the hospital.

Finally, hospitals may be held liable for failing to protect patients from harm, adequately perform clinical tests, keep accurate medical records, and properly admit and discharge patients. 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. Today, many jurisdictions are now prohibited from denying medical treatment or assistance on the basis of color, race or the inability to afford the expensive medical fees.

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 doctrine is very important to plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases, because it helps ensure there will be a financially responsible party to compensate an injured plaintiff.

However, there will be cases when the hospitals are classified as independent contractors, without employer-employee relationship with the medical professionals. In these cases, the principle 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.

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.

The primary duty of pharmaceutical companies is to the 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. The failure of the pharmaceutical companies to warn a physician on the possible harmful effects of drugs may make them liable for the detrimental effects.

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