Hospital errors cause devastating injuries to patients. Here’s how to build a strong medical malpractice case against a negligent hospital and its staff.
More than 250,000 patients die annually from medical errors, and many more survive with serious injuries. ¹
When hospitals fail in their duty to protect their patients, the results can be devastating. Hospital errors are responsible for thousands of unnecessary patient injuries and deaths each year.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are a critical problem. On any given day, at least one out of 31 patients is suffering from a hospital-acquired infection, and every year about 72,000 hospital patients die from an HIA. ²
If you or a loved one are the victim of a serious hospital error, you’re entitled to seek compensation for medical malpractice.
Common Hospital Errors and Causes
When hospital error results in harm to a patient, the hospital becomes responsible, or liable, for any damages sustained by the patient. Damages can include past, present, and future medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, the patient’s lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering.
In extreme cases of “intentional infliction of bodily harm, or wanton disregard for the safety and well-being of the patient,” a jury may award punitive damages. Punitive damages can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Types of hospital malpractice include:
- Wrong or Delayed Diagnosis: Misdiagnosis of a person’s illness or condition is the most frequent basis for medical malpractice claims. The delay or mistake might be made by the treating physician, the hospital’s medical laboratory, or someone in the radiology department.
- Improper Refusal to Treat: Denial of treatment to a woman in labor or a person in immediate need of medical or mental health care is a serious form of malpractice, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.
- Medication Errors: Medication errors can include a patient getting the wrong medication, getting the wrong dose or frequency of medication, or getting medication meant for a different patient. The malpractice may be the fault of the prescribing physician, hospital nursing staff, or the hospital’s pharmacy.
- Surgical Errors: Surgical malpractice can arise from damage to unrelated body parts, operating on the wrong body part, incomplete removal of cancers, anesthesia problems, and infections.
- Childbirth Injuries: Hospital errors during labor and delivery can be catastrophic, causing serious harm to mother and baby. Cesarean section complications are the basis for many malpractice claims.
- Poor Infection Control: Hospitals who fail to implement and follow rigorous infection control guidelines may be responsible for harm caused to patients from hospital-acquired infections.
Case Summary: $12 Million Verdict for Hospital Medical Error
Esmeralda Tripp was taking a prescription blood thinner as a treatment for A-fib (atrial fibrillation).
Like millions of other people on blood thinners, she had regular lab work to check the clotting factor in her blood. After one such test, Tripp’s primary doctor told her to go to the emergency room because her blood was too thin.
Tripp arrived at the emergency room, where the doctor on duty decided to give her Profilnine, a drug used to control heavy bleeding.
Within two hours, Tripp developed blood clots that triggered a major heart attack, depriving her brain of oxygen. Esmeralda Tripp was left in a persistent vegetative state.
Lawyers for Tripp’s family filed a lawsuit against the hospital, alleging the doctor violated the standard of medical care, and that the doctor’s negligence was the direct cause of Ms. Tripp’s permanent injuries.
The jury found in favor of the Tripp family, awarding $12 million in compensation for the hospital’s medical error.
Malpractice by Negligent Hospital Staff
Hospitals may be responsible for the negligence of their employees and associates. Hospital liability, meaning responsibility, is generally divided into three categories:
1) Hospital liability for employees
Employees are defined as people who work part-time or full-time for the hospital, on hospital premises, and are paid directly by the hospital (or its corporate owner). Examples of part-time and full-time employees are doctors on staff, nurses, administrators, janitors, cafeteria workers, and security guards.
2) Hospital liability for associates
Associates are defined as people who provide a service to patients on hospital premises, but who are employed and paid by a private company. Many private doctors have privileges to treat patients, perform surgery, administer diagnostics tests, etc. on hospital premises, but are not technically employed by the hospital.
Other examples include paramedics, private janitorial and maintenance companies, and others who are employed by an independent source but provide a direct service to the hospital.
3) Hospital liability for administrative employees
Some hospital errors are made by employees charged with administration and policy. Administrative staff can range from the chief executive officer to the admitting staff at the front desk or emergency room, and all mid-level managers in between.
Case Summary: Jury Awards $25.3 Million for Hospital Negligence
Jerri Woodring-Thueson was an avid biker when she had a minor stroke at the age of 49. She was transferred to Harborview Medical Center Stroke Center for preventative care. Harborview touted state-of-the-art medical care, with board-certified neurologists available round the clock.
At Harborview, Woodring-Thueson’s condition began to worsen, as her doctor handed off her care to interns and residents. She developed a blood vessel blockage and was rushed into surgery to place a stent.
Woodring-Thueson survived the surgery but was left paralyzed on the right side of her body.
The medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Woodring-Thueson’s attorney alleged that the negligence of Harborview and the two doctors caring for her are the direct cause of her disabling paralysis.
The jury agreed, awarding a total of $25.3 million, including $10.3 million for Woodring-Thueson’s past and future economic losses, $10 million for non-economic damages, and $5 million for her husband’s pain and suffering.
Hospitals Are Not Automatically Liable
Hospitals aren’t automatically liable for every doctor who commits malpractice on hospital property. However, a hospital is liable for the malpractice of a doctor who works directly for the hospital.
In a medical malpractice claim, if the person responsible was a doctor who worked directly for the hospital, the hospital will normally be liable – so long as the doctor was acting within the scope of their employment.
Most states have laws that make employers responsible for the acts of their employees, and that goes for hospital medical employees who are doctors.
It’s somewhat different when a doctor has a private practice and makes income from that practice, not directly from the hospital. “Hospital privileges,” essential to any doctor’s success, means a doctor isn’t technically employed by the hospital but is instead granted permission to treat patients on hospital premises.
For a physician to be granted “hospital privileges” they must be evaluated and approved by hospital administrators. When a private practice doctor with hospital privileges commits medical malpractice, and that malpractice can be blamed on the hospital, dual liability exists with the doctor and the hospital.
When a private practice doctor commits malpractice, and it cannot be blamed on the hospital, the hospital will not be liable.
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Building a Medical Malpractice Case
An injury or wrongful death due to hospital negligence is known as medical malpractice. To build a strong medical malpractice claim against the hospital, you and your attorney with have to prove:
- The hospital had a duty of care to protect you from undue harm, injury or death.
- The hospital deviated from, or “breached,” that duty of care.
- As a result of the deviation, you were unduly harmed.
- The deviation was, in and of itself, the direct and proximate cause of the harm.
- The harm resulted in a compensable loss, like additional medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Beware of the Statute of Limitations
Watch out for the statute of limitations period for filing injury lawsuits in your state. If the statute runs out before you’ve settled your claim or filed a lawsuit, you forfeit the right to pursue any malpractice compensation.
Be aware that the state or county government runs many hospitals. Injury claims against government agencies are especially challenging, often with much shorter deadlines for making your claim.
Attorneys Win Malpractice Lawsuits
Hospitals, doctors, and often nurses are protected by malpractice insurance companies who will stop at nothing to defeat your injury claim.
Malpractice insurance companies would rather pay for expensive corporate defense lawyers than see you or your family get a dime. They don’t care about your permanent injuries or the death of your loved one.
You don’t stand a chance of winning on your own, but an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you get fair compensation for your losses.
Pursuing a malpractice lawsuit against a hospital is a very complex and expensive process. Successful malpractice attorneys will advance the funds needed to hire medical experts, pay for record reviews and deposition expenses, and anything else needed to prepare for trial.
Most malpractice attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they pay for all these expenses out of their own pockets. If they don’t settle the case or win at trial, the attorney won’t get paid.
Get the compensation you deserve. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled malpractice attorney can do for you and your family.
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Hospital Malpractice Questions & Answers
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