After a medical accident, you may not know who was responsible for your injuries. Was the doctor responsible for causing your medical injury? Was the accident caused by the anesthesiologist? Maybe the injury was caused by a medical device maker or the drug company. The hospital could also have been negligent in causing your injury.
Finding out who is responsible for your medical injury can be one of the most complicated parts of filing a medical malpractice case. The good news is that experienced medical malpractice attorneys understand how to investigate medical negligence cases to identify all the parties who might be responsible and make sure they are held accountable for their negligence. If you have questions about which parties you can sue for medical malpractice, contact a law firm with a record of success in medical malpractice cases.
Parties in a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
A party is a person or company that is involved in a legal action. In a civil litigation case, the parties are generally divided as “plaintiff” or “defendant.” The plaintiff is the party that is bringing the case to court and the defendants are responding to the lawsuit.
In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff is generally the injury victim or the family of the injury victim. The plaintiff is filing a lawsuit based on alleged medical negligence by parties in the healthcare system. The defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit can include a broad number of parties. Most medical malpractice cases are filed against one or more doctors who were involved in the patient’s care. However, there can be many types of parties in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
There may be a number of people and entities involved in your medical care. The parties you can sue for medical malpractice can include many professions and entities. In some cases, there may be more than one party that shares the responsibility for causing the patient’s injuries, including:
- Cosmetic surgeon
- Medical clinic
- Physician’s assistant
- Medical laboratory
- Medical device manufacturer
- Medical device distributor
- Rehabilitation center
- Nursing home
Doctors and Surgeons
Doctors and surgeons are generally at the front line of medical care. These medical professionals have a lot of responsibility that is supported by their years of education, training, clinical work, and experience. Doctors are also responsible for providing a standard level of care to patients. When a doctor deviates from standard practices and causes an injury to the patient, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice.
Doctors are usually the primary defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Whether it involves a single doctor or multiple doctors, doctors are the most common parties an injury victim will sue for medical malpractice. This could include your primary doctor, a surgeon, or specialist.
How is the patient going to know whether the doctor made a mistake or if the injury was just a risk of the medical procedure? This can be the most important question in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The basis of a medical malpractice claim involves showing there were 4 elements:
- The doctor owed the patient a duty of care;
- The doctor breached the duty of care by deviating from standards of practice;
- The breach caused the patient’s injury; and
- The patient suffered harm or damage as a result.
The doctor may claim they were not responsible for any injury or the doctor can say they did what another doctor would do under similar circumstances. However, a medical expert may disagree. A medical expert in a medical malpractice lawsuit is generally a doctor with experience in a similar type of medicine. This expert can review the medical records and evidence and testify to the jury about whether the doctor deviated from standard practices. It is then up to the jury to determine whether the doctor involved breached their duty of care and caused the injury.
According to a study by Columbia University, between 1999 and 2005, 46.6% of anesthesia-related deaths in the United States were due to an anesthetic overdose. Anesthesia can involve powerful drugs that have the ability to stop a patient’s breathing or stop the heart, leading to death. Finding the right balance of medications is important in responsible anesthesiology, as well as monitoring the patient’s vital signs. Many people take the risks of anesthesiology too lightly, considering the risk involved.
Not surprisingly, most patients who suffer a medical injury have no idea that anything went wrong. This is because many of the patients are under the effects of anesthesia when the negligence occurs. In these cases, it may be up to medical experts to review the medical records to determine what went wrong. Medical records and depositions can help your medical malpractice attorney identify errors committed by a negligent anesthesiologist.
Plastic surgery is commonly involved in medical malpractice cases. Plastic surgeons may not be upfront with patients about the risks and side effects of cosmetic procedures. Cosmetic surgery clinics may even downplay the risks of injury, disfigurement, or death. Without informed consent that details all the risks, benefits, and alternatives, how is a patient supposed to make an informed decision about undergoing surgery?
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures are:
These procedures can be marketed as out-patient, simple, and common medical treatment. However, any surgical procedure carries serious risks of injury, including pain, disfigurement, brain damage, and death. Some plastic surgery clinics treat their practice as a volume business, trying to get as many patients through the doors as quickly as possible. Rushing any procedure, especially surgery, can be dangerous.
Unfortunately, many victims of plastic surgery malpractice never come forward. They may be ashamed because of the way the surgeon disfigured their body, leaving them with bruising, scars, uneven body shape, and pain. It is important to contact your medical malpractice attorney after a botched cosmetic surgery to hold them accountable, recover compensation, and help others avoid the dangers of a negligent surgeon.
Hospitals and Medical Clinics
The hospital is not just made up of the building where doctors work. A hospital is a company or corporation that makes important decisions that affect medical care for thousands of patients. A hospital is also an employer. As an employer, the hospital can be held responsible for the negligence of its employees.
Under vicarious liability, employers are held responsible for the negligent actions of their employees. Also referred to as respondeat superior, a healthcare facility can be held liable for the negligent actions of doctors and other healthcare professionals that are employed by the facility. Hospitals and medical clinics are often named in medical malpractice lawsuits as an additional party that may be liable for the medical negligence of doctors or other healthcare workers.
Even when a doctor is not an employee of the hospital, a hospital could still be found liable under the apparent authority of the hospital. Apparent authority is the legal claim where a party may be held responsible for the actions of someone who appeared to be an agent, even if the hospital didn’t have actual authority. This prevents the hospital from trying to absolve themselves of responsibility when it appears to others that the hospital is in charge.
Also known as ostensible agency, even if the doctor is technically an independent contractor, a hospital could still be held responsible if:
- It reasonably appears as if the doctor is an employee;
- The patient relied on this apparent authority; and
- The hospital did not take the steps necessary to clarify the doctor’s status.
In some cases, the hospital is not just passively responsible for accidents and injuries, but directly liable. Hospital administrators have a duty of care they owe to patients who seek treatment in the hospital. If the hospital administrators fail to act responsibly, it can cause patients to suffer unnecessary harm. Hospital liability can be based on:
- Failure to train
- Failure to supervise
- Negligent hiring
- Understaffing facilities
- Failure to maintain equipment
- Failure to follow sanitation procedures
Joint and Several Liability in Medical Malpractice
If there is more than one party that has been found liable for your medical injury, the issue of joint and several liability may become an issue. Joint liability means that more than one party is found liable for damages. Several liability means that each party is responsible for their share of liability and damages.
In a medical malpractice lawsuit with multiple defendants, the jury will generally divide up fault out of 100%. For example, if 2 doctors are both found to be equally responsible for causing an injury, they may each be found to be 50% liable for the damages. Alternatively, if the jury finds the doctor to be primarily responsible but the anesthesiologist and hospital are partly responsible, the jury may allocate:
- Doctor: 80% liability
- Hospital: 10% liability
- Anesthesiologist: 10% liability
In this example, if the patient’s damages are $100,000, then the doctor would be responsible for $80,000, and the hospital and anesthesiologist would each be responsible for $10,000 in damages. Does this mean that the injury victim has to go through the process of trying to collect damages from each party? Not necessarily.
There are different ways to apportion liability with multiple defendants who are each partially to blame for the injury, including several liability and joint and several liability. Some states use several liability, where each defendant is only responsible for their portion of the damages. Other states used joint and several liability, where the plaintiff can recover the entire amount of damages from any defendant. It is then left up to the defendants to recover the other defendants’ contribution.
In the example above, under joint and several liability, the injury victim could recover all $100,000 from any of the defendants, even the anesthesiologist. It would then be left up to the anesthesiologist to recover the other $90,000 from the hospital and the doctor. Pure joint and several liability relieves the injury victim of the burden of collecting where there are multiple defendants who were responsible for causing the injury.
Maryland Has Pure Joint and Several Liability
Under Maryland Code §3-1401, “‘Joint tort-feasors’ means two or more persons jointly or severally liable in tort for the same injury to person or property, whether or not judgment has been recovered against all or some of them.” This means each defendant is liable for the entire verdict, even if they were only partially at fault.
If it seems unfair for the defendants to pay more than their share, remember that the victim was innocent in the negligence caused by multiple defendants. The defendants can then sue the other defendants for contribution, making them go through the process of recovering the portion of the verdict assigned by the jury. This pure joint and several liability law helps ensure the victim is not the one who loses when one defendant becomes insolvent.
Philadelphia Has Modified Joint and Several Liability
Pennsylvania is a modified joint and several liability state. For injury victims recovering damages from multiple defendants, there is several liability. However, when the defendant is more than 60% at fault, there is joint and several liability. There is also joint and several liability for intentional torts, which is rare in medical malpractice cases.
Chicago Has Modified Joint and Several Liability
For injury victims in Chicago, Illinois has a modified version of joint and several liability. There is joint and several liability for any defendant that is 25% or more liable for the damages. However, if the defendant is less than 25% liable, then there is joint liability for medical expenses but several liability for other damages. If you want to know how much of your damages are allocated to medical expenses and which damages are considered several in a medical malpractice claim, talk to your Chicago medical malpractice attorneys for advice.
Washington D.C. Has Pure Joint and Several Liability
In the District of Columbia, the plaintiff can sue one defendant for the full amount of the damages. Along with a handful of states like Maryland, this is one of the pure joint and several liability states that does not force the injury victim to run around collecting from each defendant responsible for causing their injuries. Instead, the injury victim can seek the full amount of damages from any one defendant, then leave it up to the liable defendant to recover contributions from the other parties responsible for causing the injuries.
Find Out Which Parties Are Responsible For Your Medical Injuries
Parties in a medical malpractice case can be a complex issue. Your attorney may need to review your medical records, contact experts, and do some investigation before they can identify all the parties that may be named in a medical malpractice case. This is why it is important to contact an experienced medical injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
There is a limited time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This time limit is known as the statute of limitations. If you file your claim even one day too late, you may have your claim denied. Contact your medical malpractice attorney as soon as you can to find out about the timeline for your claim and find out which parties you can sue for medical malpractice.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Gilman & Bedigian can evaluate your injuries and help you determine whether or not you may have a claim. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a medical injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.