Is a Surgical Error Lawsuit Filed Against a Hospital or an Individual Doctor?

Patients and their families are left with pain, questions, and worry for the future after a botched surgery. One of the most frequently asked questions is often: should the lawsuit be filed against the hospital, the individual doctor, or both? In some cases, one entity will be more to blame than another, and there are many considerations to take into account. Your surgical error lawyer will be able to help you decide for your own case: read on to learn a bit more about how these decisions are made.

Liability: Hospitals vs. Individual Doctors

Direct Hospital Liability

Hospitals have a duty to ensure a safe environment for their patients. They can be directly liable for issues like poor hospital administration, inadequate staff training, substandard cleaning routines, or faulty equipment.

Vicarious Liability

This is when a hospital is held responsible for the actions of its employees, such as surgeons or nurses, even though the hospital itself did nothing wrong. However, not all medical professionals working in a hospital are considered employees of that hospital, and that’s where things can get confusing. Many doctors work as independent contractors, and the hospital often cannot be held responsible for their mistakes.

Determining Employment Status

To decide whom to sue, one must first ascertain the employment status of the medical professional who made the error. As mentioned, hospitals are generally not liable for the mistakes of independent contractors, though they can be held to account for failing to vet a negligent professional properly, even if that medical professional was working as an independent contractor.  

In most cases, doctors and surgeons are hospital employees, but that’s not always the case. Some medical professionals, like anesthesiologists and dermatologists, are more likely than others to be independent contractors, and sometimes radiologists, too. Here’s how we distinguish:

Contractual Agreements

Reviewing the agreement between the doctor and the hospital can provide clarity on the employment status.

Control Test

This test examines the level of control the hospital has over the doctor’s work. If the hospital dictates work hours, surgical procedures, or tools to be used, this usually indicates an employer-employee relationship. An independent contractor will have a lot of personal freedom in decided when, where, and how to work.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Suing Either Party

Suing a Hospital

Hospitals typically have deeper pockets, meaning there’s the potential for higher compensation. However, proving a hospital’s liability, especially if the doctor was an independent contractor, can be challenging, and with those deeper pockets also comes more money to pay for strong legal defense.

Suing an Individual Doctor

The benefit of this approach is that it can sometimes be more straightforward to prove a specific doctor’s negligence. On the downside, doctors may not have the same financial capacity as a hospital to pay out large settlements.

Joint Liability

In some cases, both the hospital and the doctor may be held jointly liable for the surgical error. This is especially possible when both have shown negligence or if the doctor is an employee of the hospital. In such instances, the patient can sue both parties, increasing the chances of a favorable judgment or settlement.

Statute of Limitations in Maryland

In Maryland, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims is generally five years from the date the injury occurred or three years from the time it was discovered, though there are some occasional exceptions.

Gathering Essential Evidence

To build a strong case, whether against an individual doctor or a hospital, evidence is crucial. You’ll need:

Medical Records

These serve as the primary documentation of the surgery, including pre-operative and post-operative notes, and these can sometimes be helpful when they reveal deviations from standard procedure or contradict the testimony of a surgeon.

Expert Testimonies

In Maryland, medical malpractice claims require the testimony of medical experts in the same field as the defendant. Their insights can clarify if the doctor’s or hospital’s actions deviated from the accepted standard of care.

Eyewitness Accounts

Staff present during the surgery may also be able to provide invaluable insight into what transpired, especially if there’s ambiguity in the medical records.

Considerations Before You Sue

While financial compensation is a significant aspect of any lawsuit, the emotional toll shouldn’t be underestimated. Lawsuits can be draining for both parties, emotionally and financially, which is one reason a significant number of these cases are settled outside the courtroom. 

Settlements offer a quicker resolution without the unpredictability of a court verdict. However, taking a settlement may mean accepting a lower compensation than what might be awarded in court. Your attorney can provide guidance on whether accepting a settlement or proceeding to trial is the wisest move for you.

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Seeking Guidance and Support From a Surgical Error Lawyer

Every case is unique, so engaging a qualified and experienced Maryland attorney early on can ensure that you’re exploring all avenues for compensation and making informed decisions. Your attorney will help you evaluate the merits of your case and advocate for your best interests. Find out more about your case by contacting one of Maryland’s leading surgical error lawyers.

The choice to sue a hospital, an individual doctor, or both will depend on numerous factors unique to your case. Contact a lawyer right away to make sure you’re protecting your rights and making the best decisions.