If you’re wondering if you can sue a hospital, you might not be alone. This is a question that people often have if their loved one isn’t properly treated in a hospital, at least in their opinion.
If you were to sue a hospital or medical provider, it would be a personal injury case. Under personal injury laws, you can recover compensation for damages caused by another party. The damages you may recover in a personal injury case are usually in one of three categories.
There are economic damages. These are financial losses that are incurred if you’re the victim. Economic damages can include your out-of-pocket expenses related to your injuries or your accident. Economic damages can also include bills you get from third parties in relation to your accident or injury.
The second category of damages is non-economic. These include pain and suffering that a victim might go through because of their injury. The damages are subjective since everyone is going to experience pain and suffering differently.
The third category of damages is rarely available—punitive damages. They’re only available in certain types of personal injury cases, and they are meant to punish the party that’s responsible for injuries and deter similar behavior in the future.
With these things in mind, below, we talk more specifically about whether or not you can sue a hospital and what to know.
Reasons for Suing a Hospital
If a hospital gives the wrong treatment or their staff makes a mistake, or if your loved one died in the care of a hospital, there may be options to sue. While the medical professionals working at the hospital may have made the actual mistake, a hospital is still responsible for the training of employees and their decisions.
However, not all care providers are employees. Doctors are often independent contractors of the hospital, and if only their actions are the reason for your injuries, you may not be able to sue the actual hospital.
Specific reasons that you can potentially sue a hospital include:
- The wrong diagnosis or medical treatment was provided
- You were given the wrong medication
- Medical technicians made mistakes like not sanitizing equipment
- Surgical errors, such as equipment being left inside you during surgery
- Not following the standard of care
- Negligence by a health care professional
- Dangerous or negligent behaviors by staff, like leaving floors wet
- The wrongful death of someone in your family
- Discrimination—for example, a staff member doesn’t treat you or doesn’t treat you properly because of your race or sexual orientation
The statute of limitations for hospital negligence is usually between two and six years, but it varies depending on your state.
There are some cases where you could have the option to sue the hospital even though your doctor or the doctor of your loved one was a contractor or employer. This could be when the hospital doesn’t make it clear the doctor isn’t an employee, or you went to the emergency room and didn’t have the time or couldn’t sign the paperwork. You could also sue a hospital if they’re keeping employees with known issues, like a substance abuse problem.
There are many states that will hold a hospital accountable if the facility gives privileges to incompetent or dangerous doctors, even if that doctor is actually an independent contractor.
When you’re suing a hospital, you’re actually dealing with their insurance company. In rare cases, a doctor could lose their license, but typically, it’s the insurance company that will be compensating you.
If it’s your doctor who made a mistake and an independent contractor, you’ll usually be going after them legally. However, if the mistake was made by an employee like a nurse or medical tech staff, then that might be a situation where you’d sue the hospital.
If you sue a doctor, they’re usually self-employed if they work as a contractor, so they’d have their own malpractice insurance.
Understanding Medical Negligence
Medical negligence is the legal theory most medical malpractice cases are based on, the two terms tend to be used interchangeably in many cases. Even though the terms are used in place of one another, medical negligence is just one of the required legal elements of medical malpractice claims.
Negligence, in general, is a legal theory that’s used when looking at who’s at fault in a civil case with injuries.
Like drivers on the roadways owe to one another, medical professionals and doctors owe a duty of care to their patients. Health care providers have to provide treatment in line with the medical standard of care. The medical standard of care is the type and level of care that someone who was reasonably competent and skilled as a health care provider in the same medical community and with a similar background would have provided under similar circumstances.
If a health care provider does their job in a way deviating from the accepted medical standard of care, it could represent medical negligence.
With that being said, negligence doesn’t always lead to an injury. Therefore a health care provider might have deviated from the acceptable standard of care, yet there’s not a medical malpractice case because the patient wasn’t harmed, nor was their health affected.
Medical negligence can become malpractice if a doctor’s treatment injures the patient, making the condition worse, causing unexpected complications, or leading to the need for additional treatment.
The causation and damages have to be there before you might have a viable lawsuit for medical malpractice.
Finally, it’s tough to prove a medical malpractice lawsuit because you have to show the hospital is responsible and not just the doctor. You have to show the medical professionals at the hospital owed you a duty of care and failed to adhere to that, and you have to show you were injured because of their action or inaction, and you wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Medical malpractice lawyers tend to have the needed expertise to offer legal advice and help you decide whether to sue a hospital or health care provider. You’ll need to gather a lot of evidence if you pursue a lawsuit, like medical records, records of mistakes on the job, and more, which is, again, something an attorney can help you with.