While a hospital is where you go when you need to recover from a serious medical condition, it can also be the place where your problem gets worse. For some, it can even be where an injury first happens, ruining an otherwise healthy existence and proving to be the turning point to a more painful one.
Getting hurt in a hospital can feel like a betrayal by the very system that is supposed to make your life better. You should be compensated for your injuries, so that your financial well-being is not also impacted by the incident. If you were hurt in Philadelphia, then filing a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital that caused you such pain and suffering can be the best way to make this happen.
Two Main Types of Hospital Injuries
There are thousands, if not millions, of different ways that you can get hurt while visiting a Philadelphia hospital. However, when you are planning on suing a hospital for your injuries, nearly all of them can be distilled into one of two categories:
- Medical malpractice, or
- Premises liability.
Medical Malpractice as a Form of Hospital Injury
Instances of medical malpractice are often very serious, life altering events. Because they typically complicate medical conditions that already exist, victims of medical malpractice are often already in poor health before the incident of malpractice. After it, though, they are even worse off. At a time when they were supposed to be getting the help that they needed to recovery, malpractice victims are often saddled with even worse injuries that require even more time, energy, and money to make a full recovery.
Some of the most common examples of medical malpractice situations involve:
- Errors diagnosing a medical condition,
- Surgical errors, like wrong site surgeries or even wrong patient surgeries,
- Prescription errors,
- Anesthesia errors and miscalculations,
- Birth injuries to newborns,
- Defective medical equipment, or
- Negligent intubation.
Filing a lawsuit against the hospital, itself, is the ideal way to fix this problem. Unlike the specific doctor, nurse, or surgeon who hurt you, the hospital is a company that will typically have the monetary resources on hand to compensate you for the losses you have suffered from their actions or lack of action.
Elements of Medical Malpractice
Lawsuits for medical malpractice are a subset of the wider category of personal injury lawsuits. Like a personal injury lawsuit, the core piece of a medical malpractice is the claim that someone else hurt you through their negligence, and that you deserve to be compensated to make yourself whole, once again.
Also like in personal injury lawsuits, medical malpractice cases revolve around four elements:
- The people you are suing owed you a duty of care,
- They failed to uphold that duty,
- That failure was the cause of your injuries, and
- You were, in fact, hurt.
The Duty of Care, and Breaching the Duty of Care
When someone owes you a duty of care, it means that the law is holding them responsible for your well-being. If you then get hurt while they had that duty of care to uphold, the law will look to them to compensate you for your losses.
In the context of medical malpractice and hospital injuries, then, the issue becomes whether the hospital – the corporation, business, or company that runs the hospital, not the individual people who work there – had a responsibility for your safety. There are some instances where this is clearly the case, like when you paid money to the hospital for a procedure like a surgery, and were then hurt during that surgery by employees of the hospital. However, there are far more circumstances where this is not a cut-and-dried answer. The unique facts to your specific case
Once it has been established that the hospital was responsible for your well-being at the time you got hurt, the next question becomes whether they took appropriate and reasonable steps to ensure your safety was protected. Again, this is a question that revolves around the specific facts of your case, making it difficult to give bright line rules that always find the right answer. If the facts of your case suggest that the hospital did not take those steps, though, they are said to be in breach of their duty of care towards you and, if that breach was the cause of your injuries, the hospital will be liable for your compensation.
The Cause and Extent of Your Injuries
Just because a hospital owed you a duty of care and then failed to take the appropriate measures to uphold that duty, though, does not automatically mean they will be held liable for your injuries. Their poor conduct also has to be the cause of your injuries, as well.
Causation is a very difficult idea in the legal world. However, in short, there needs to be a chain of events that logically leads from a hospital's poor conduct to your injuries for the causation element of a medical malpractice lawsuit to be satisfied.
Once causation has been proven, your lawsuit can move onto the issue of the extent of your injuries and the amount of compensation that you deserve to make your life as close to normal as possible, once again.
Important Complications to Hospital Injury Lawsuits
There are numerous complications, when it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits that are being filed against a hospital, rather than just an individual doctor or surgeon.
Perhaps the most important is that, technically, the hospital itself rarely did anything negligent to cause your injury. After all, the hospital is typically just a business that pays other people to do things that earn a profit for the business owners.
This is where the legal doctrine of respondeat superior comes into play. When an employee does something negligently while at work, this doctrine holds the employee's superior legally liable for any injuries that the negligence causes. Therefore, when a hospital's employee is the one who acts negligently and this ends with you getting hurt, the law, though the doctrine of respondeat superior, will look to the hospital for your compensation.
However, hospitals know and understand this aspect of the law very well, and have done all that they can to avoid it being used. One of the most common ways that hospitals skirt around being held liable through respondeat superior is to not officially employ anyone in a high risk position. Many of the doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists that you find in a hospital are technically independent contractors, not employees. It is small practical distinction, but an important legal one: As long as they abide by the rules set out by employment law, businesses cannot be held liable for the conduct or negligence of their independent contractors.
Many hospitals, however, do not play by the rules of employment law. They say that some of the people who work in their hospital are independent contractors, but then treat them like employees. In these cases, respondeat superior can still apply, imputing liability onto a deep-pocketed hospital and making them legally responsible for compensating you for your losses, despite their objection that the negligence was done by someone who was not technically one of their employees.
Hospital Injuries and Premises Liability
While many hospital injuries are instances of medical malpractice, some others actually fall into the world of premises liability. These incidents involve a dangerous condition in the hospital that puts visitors at risk of slipping or falling and getting hurt, like
- A slippery floor that you can slip and fall on,
- A broken stair in a stairwell that breaks when you put weight on it, causing you to fall through the stairs or down them,
- An inconspicuous object in the hospital's parking lot that you do not notice, causing you to trip and fall on it,
- Protruding corners of carpets that catch your foot and make you tumble, or
- Sloped floors that cause you to lose control of the wheelchair you have been provided during your hospital stay.
While still a portion of the wider realm of personal injury law, premises liability cases deal with the responsibility of a landowner to ensure their premises are safe for those who visit. In the context of hospital injuries, the landowner is the hospital business, the premises are the hospital building and grounds, and the visitor is you or a loved one who got hurt.
Elements of a Premises Liability Case
Because it is still technically a type of personal injury case, premises liability lawsuits against a hospital still have to show the same four elements as a case of medical malpractice: A duty of care, a breach of that duty, causation between the breach and your injuries, and the extent of your losses.
There is one unique aspect of premises liability cases that makes them significantly different from medical malpractice claims: Different types of visitors are treated differently when it comes to what duty of care the hospital needed to uphold, because the presence of some kinds of visitors is more foreseeable to the hospital than the presence of others.
Trespassers are people who are in a place without the permission of the landowner. Because it is difficult to foresee that a trespasser will be in a specific place in a hospital, the hospital owes only a very small duty of care to ensure they do not get hurt while on the hospital's property: A hospital only needs to refrain from hurting a trespasser “willfully or wantonly.” This means the hospital will only be found liable for a trespasser's injuries if it purposely caused them, or if the hospital, disregarding an obvious risk that an injury was extremely likely to result, left a hazardous condition remain on its property.
Licensees, unlike trespassers, have the hospital's permission to be on the property. One example of a licensee is someone visiting a friend or relative who is staying in the hospital, and comes by during visiting hours. The duty of care that hospitals have towards licensees is higher than it is towards trespassers. Hospitals can be held liable to a licensee's injuries if the dangerous condition was too inconspicuous for the victim to notice, and the hospital knew or should have known of the condition but failed to correct it or warn the licensee.
Finally, invitees are people who are on the hospital's property for the financial benefit of the hospital, like a patient. Hospitals have a high standard of care to meet, when it comes to invitees: Hospitals are liable for injuries caused by all but the most apparent dangerous conditions on their property if the hospital could have reasonably discovered the danger, and failed to take reasonable steps to ensure their invitees' safety.
What this means for hospital injuries is that who you are can make a significant difference: Two people can slip and fall on the same a slippery floor, but one person can be successful in a premises liability claim while the other fails. If you are a hospital patient, your ability to recover increases dramatically because the hospital you are staying in has a much more onerous duty of care to uphold. However, it also means that hospitals are much less able to immunize themselves from liability for your injuries by simply distancing themselves from the people who work within their walls: Reclassifying workers as independent contractors is not a way to avoid premises liability lawsuits.
Philadelphia Hospital Injury Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
If you or someone you love has suffered a hospital injury in Philadelphia, you need solid legal representation to make sure you get the compensation that you need and that you deserve. You can count on the medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian to represent you both in and out of court in a professional way that gets you what you need to live a full and healthy life. Contact us online for the help you need.