If you’ve been injured as a result of the medical negligence of hospital employees, chances are you have a pretty good case against the hospital under the legal doctrine known as respondeat superior. It means an employer is responsible for the wrongful acts and omissions of employees. It’s a concept that has been applied to a wide variety of employers, including trucking companies, builders, shopping malls and – quite frequently – hospitals.
But many people don’t know that while nurses, technicians and other staff members are typically hospital employees, most doctors working in hospitals today are not. Instead, they are considered independent contractors who work for themselves but have been granted permission by the hospital to practice medicine there.
That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that you don’t have a case against the hospital if you’ve been injured by an incompetent or unqualified doctor. In most states, the hospital could also be held liable for allowing that doctor to practice medicine there.
Hospitals each have their own credentialing process through which they screen the qualifications of physicians to whom they grant privileges. In general, it involves seeking references from peers, ensuring that physicians have the medical degrees that they claim, and checking their backgrounds for malpractice suits and other types of complaints.
One of the most frequently sited negligent credentialing cases occurred in 2012, when an Illinois jury awarded an injured plaintiff nearly $8 million. A podiatrist operated on a diabetic patient’s foot, despite the fact that her foot was infected, causing damage that ultimately required an amputation.
The injured plaintiff claimed that doctor should not have had surgical privileges because he failed to meet the hospital’s own credentialing criteria, which required postgraduate training and board certification, among other qualifications. The podiatrist settled with the plaintiff for $900,000. But at trial the jury found that the hospital owed the injured plaintiff $7.7 million.
Courts have ruled that hospitals can be held liable even when a physician lies to them about their credentials. In one of the earliest negligent credentialing cases, a Wisconsin jury found that the hospital was 80 percent responsible for permanent nerve damage suffered by the plaintiff during hip surgery because it did not verify information provided by the surgeon, who falsely claimed on his application that he had privileges at other nearby hospitals.
Hospitals also have a duty to re-examine a physician’s record before re-credentialing them, and can be sued if they don’t and it leads to a patient being injured. For example, a California court found the hospital liable for renewing the credentials of a surgeon who had practiced medicine there for decades, because it failed to investigate the reasons why the surgeon had lost privileges at a nearby hospital.
Entering the hospital for surgery or any other medical procedure can be a frightening experience. You have a right to expect that the hospital has taken adequate steps to ensure the competency of not just nurses and other staff members, but of the doctors they allow in their operating rooms. If you have been injured in a hospital setting, a member of our Medical Malpractice Litigation Group can discuss all of your options with you. Please contact us today!