How Are Hospitals Held Accountable for Medical Malpractice in South Carolina?
If you’ve been injured in a South Carolina hospital after seeking treatment for a medical condition you are likely wondering about who is responsible for the harm you’ve suffered. Your first instinct may be to sue the hospital; after all, that’s where the malpractice occurred. The problem is that hospital liability for medical malpractice can be complicated and is not always as clear as it seems. To find out more about hospital liability, keep reading.
What is medical malpractice?
First things first, what is medical malpractice? Medical malpractice is a professional form of negligence and occurs when a healthcare professional (doctor, nurse, paramedic) provides treatment that falls below the accepted standard of practice in the medical community and this leads to either injury or death in a patient.
When are hospitals liable?
Hospitals, like all employers, are liable for the actions of their employees when their employees harm others in the course of their employment. In hospitals, this means that if an employee injures a patient by acting negligently or recklessly, the hospital can be held financially responsible for those injuries.
Now that we know that hospitals can indeed be held liable for the actions of their employees, we should discuss who is considered an employee. In most cases, nurses, paramedics, medical aides and other medical technicians are direct hospital employees. That means that so long as they were engaged in behavior that was a part of their work at the time they injured a patient, the hospital can be held liable for their actions.
A good example of how this works in practice is if a nurse injected a patient with the wrong type of medicine, causing serious injuries or even death. Because the nurse did this in the course of her employment, meaning it was a part of her work with the hospital, the hospital itself could be sued and found liable for the injuries that occurred to the patient.
Are doctors employees?
Something that surprises most injured patients is that many doctors are not actually employees of the hospitals they work at. This means that in some cases, hospitals will not be liable for the actions of doctors, even if those actions occurred within the walls of the hospital.
The issue of liability for doctors is difficult because many doctors are independent contractors, not technical employees of the hospitals they work at. Employers are not held financially responsible for the negligent conduct of independent contractors, regardless of the industry. In the context of a medical malpractice case, this means that doctors may have to be sued individually for their malpractice, letting hospitals off the hook.
Hospital employees under a doctor’s supervision
Another weird exception to the rule of hospital liability occurs when a hospital employee is negligent while operating under a doctor’s supervision. A good example of this is if a nurse’s mistake, perhaps not keep tracking of surgical instruments properly which were then left inside a patient, leads to serious injuries. If the nurse made the mistake while in surgery with a doctor who was present and had the ability to prevent the negligence, the hospital could be off the hook for financial responsibility. Luckily, patients aren’t left out in the cold entirely; patients injured by an employee who is under the supervision of a non-employee doctor can sue the doctor for the medical malpractice.
Liability for non-employees
Though it might seem like there are a lot of loopholes for hospitals to avoid liability (and there are), the good news is that there are some cases where hospitals can be held accountable for the actions of even non-employees like doctors. One case where hospitals are held responsible for the negligent actions of doctors is when the hospital functions as that doctor’s employer, even if the technical arrangement appears to be that of an independent contractor.
In cases where the hospital controls the doctor’s schedule and work hours, billing practices and fee schedules or other routine aspects of the doctor’s daily work life, a case can be made that the hospital is functioning as an employer. Also, in cases where hospitals fail to make it clear to patients that doctors are not employees, hospitals can also be held liable for medical malpractice.
Another circumstance where hospitals can be held liable for the actions of non-employee doctors is when hospitals hire or continue employing incompetent or dangerous doctors. If a hospital has reason to know the doctor is a danger to patients or lacks the skills necessary to provide proper care, then the hospital can be held accountable for the mistakes these doctors make. The South Carolina Supreme Court has specifically held that hospitals have an obligation to provide competent services to patients, specifically in emergency room departments, regardless of whether the doctors are independent contractors.
South Carolina Medical Malpractice Attorney David Aylor has assisted countless injured individuals across South Carolina and helped secure damages for the harms they’ve suffered. David Aylor understands that medical malpractice can devastate a patient and his or her family, leaving everyone worried about how the injured individual will get back on his or her feet, both physically and financially. If you’ve been injured by a doctor, nurse, paramedic or medical technician and believe you have suffered from South Carolina medical malpractice, feel free to contact David Aylor today at 843.310.4900.