Holding Hospitals Accountable in Medical Malpractice Cases

April 30, 2014

Medical Malpractice Cases and Respondeat Superior

It is no secret that, under Ohio law, it has become increasingly difficult for victims of medical malpractice to obtain compensation for their injuries.  An inadequate statute of limitations, burdensome preliminary evidentiary requirements, and the rising cost of litigation all work against the interests of innocent people who suffer at the hands of negligent medical professionals.  In spite of these difficulties, plaintiffs still have the right to seek compensation for injuries sustained because of medical or surgical malpractice.

But who can be held responsible for the negligence of a doctor or other medical professional?  Certainly, a patient has a right to seek compensation from the doctor who commits medical malpractice.  But the hospital where the patient received care or treatment may also be held liable under the legal theory of respondeat superior, which holds employers liable for the negligence of their employees.

Oftentimes, though, a hospital will attempt to shirk responsibility in medical malpractice cases by claiming that the doctor or medical professional that committed malpractice was not an employee of the hospital.  This argument typically arises in situations where individual practitioners or independent contractors provide medical services at the hospital but are not on the hospital payroll.  While it is true that hospitals are not liable under the theory of respondeat superior in these situations, that does not mean that the hospitals can escape liability altogether.

Agency by Estoppel

If you go to a hospital seeking medical treatment and the hospital assigns particular medical professionals to treat you, it would seem irrelevant whether the medical professionals are considered employees or independent contractors.  From the patient’s point of view, the hospital is providing medical care and there is an expectation that the hospital has taken measures to ensure that such care will be competent.  Accordingly, the hospital should be accountable when the medical care it provides is negligent.

The doctrine of agency by estoppel supports this view.  Under Ohio law, agency by estoppel allows injured plaintiffs to hold a hospital liable for the negligence of non-employee medical professionals if the hospital holds itself out to the public as a provider of medical services, and the patient looks to the hospital, as opposed to the individual practitioner, to provide competent medical care. Though not relevant to all medical malpractice cases, the doctrine of agency by estoppel is noteworthy because it one of the rare plaintiff-friendly doctrines in medical malpractice law.

Medical malpractice victims have a short window in which to file a lawsuit.  If you or a loved one has been injured by medical or surgical malpractice, contact the Cleveland medical malpractice lawyers of Lowe Scott Fisher Co., LPA for a free telephone consultation as soon as possible.

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