Can You Sue a Hospital for Emergency Room Mistakes?

In the average emergency room and at any given hour, the scene is hectic. Patients are rolled in sometimes without any notice to the practicing doctors, nurses, and surgeons, and often in harrowing conditions. When so much is happening at once and with little time to plan, errors can happen. If a patient is injured because of one such incident of medical malpractice in an emergency room, can they sue the entire hospital for their damages?

Hospitals are Liable for Employees, Not Contractors

Employers can be held partially or completely liable for the mistakes of their employees. This rule applies to virtually all industries, including healthcare industries. To this end, hospitals can be held financially liable for the harmful errors made by their employees.

However, many doctors are not employees. Instead, they are independent contractors who take patients, shifts, procedures, etc. on a contract-by-contract basis. Whenever you sign an admission form, there will probably be a line of text in there somewhere that informs you if the doctor you are currently seeing is an employee of the hospital or medical group or just an independent contractor who happens to be performing work there. Even your primary care physician could be an independent contractor.

If the medical practitioner who conducted medical malpractice is an independent contractor, then you will likely only be able to file a claim against them. Only being able to sue a single doctor instead of a medical group is not necessarily a bad thing. Doctors should have professional liability insurance that can be used to provide damages to an injured patient. Although, gaining access to that coverage could require litigation or settlement negotiations with the help of an attorney.

What About Doctors in the ER?

When a patient is brought to the ER, there is often no time to sign admission paperwork. Many patients are not even conscious enough to sign if they wanted to. The medical practitioners who diagnose and treat them are usually unidentified strangers who the patient has to trust.

If something goes wrong in the emergency room and there was never a chance to tell the patient that their ER medical practitioners are not employees of the hospital, then the hospital could be held liable for mistakes caused by those medical professionals. This loophole is fairly common among all states, as it gives patients an opportunity to seek compensation after harmful medical malpractice in the ER. It also helps protect individual practitioners from liability by putting the responsibility on the hospital or clinic. Otherwise, ER doctors might be reluctant to practice at all, as they would be easily exposed to lawsuits.