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Holding hospitals accountable for medical malpractice


When a Montana resident is the victim of medical malpractice resulting from doctor error, it is sometimes necessary to sue not only the doctor but the hospital where the malpractice occurred. This can be important in cases involving significant damages, because the patient's attorney will want to ensure there is a defendant with sufficient resources to compensate the patient.

Hospitals can be liable for medical malpractice in two general ways. They can be directly liable for their own negligence, or they can be vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees.

A hospital is liable for its own negligence when it breaches a duty of care it owes to the patient. For example, a hospital could be directly liable if it negligently failed to ensure that a doctor with privileges at the hospital was competent in his or her field. Or the hospital could be responsible if it failed to keep enough nurses on duty to provide adequate care, and the patient suffered injury or a worsened medical condition as a result.

Vicarious liability means the hospital was not necessarily negligent itself but is legally responsible for the negligence of a doctor employed by the hospital. A legal doctrine called respondeat superior holds an employer liable for the negligence of an employee, as long as the negligence occurred while the employee was acting within the scope and course of their employment. Respondeat superior only applies to employee negligence; if the doctor who committed malpractice was an independent contractor, the hospital will not be liable under respondeat superior.

Source: Findlaw, "Medical Malpractice: Who Can Be Sued?" accessed May 18, 2015

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