Vicarious Liability In Rehab Centers

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Drug and alcohol rehab centers usually employ a diverse staff. This can include counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, nurse assistants, pharmacists, aides, cafeteria staff, maintenance workers, and many more. While having the right mix of medical professionals can be critical to ensure the successful completion of a treatment plan, there are also some inherent risks to the patient when dealing with such a diverse team. Communication is essential in a healthcare setting where multiple professionals are working on the same patient, such as a hospital or a rehab center. Failure to communicate can result in medication errors, diagnostic issues, and more.

Additionally, receiving care from a variety of providers comes with the risk that one of these providers may make a mistake. The effects of medical errors may range from non-existent to fatal. When the effects are serious, extensive medical treatment ranging from ambulance transportation, hospitalization, surgery, therapy, and more. Medical treatment of this nature can be extremely expensive and result in staggering out-of-pocket expenses. 

The law recognizes that a healthcare employee may make a mistake that results in a serious financial burden to the victim (or his or her family). Personal injury law in the United States permits an injured party (the plaintiff) to pursue a claim for damages against the individual responsible for the injury (the defendant). However, in many cases, the individual does not have the personal resources to even begin to adequately compensate the plaintiff.  As mentioned above, medical errors can result in serious injuries and/or illnesses that require extensive medical intervention. These costs can be staggering.

The legal doctrine of vicarious liability allows victims to recover financially from an organization which should be held responsible for the actions (or failure to act) of certain individuals who were acting as an agent of the organization. One common example of this is an employer/employee. An employer can be financially liable for the behavior of its employees, under certain circumstances. First, an employer/employee relationship must exist. Every individual who performs professional services for a company or organization is not necessarily an employee of that organization. In some cases, the individual may contract for these services, and may not be classified as an “employee”. When determining if an employer/employee relationship existed for the purposes of determining liability, the finder of fact will examine the degree to which the employer had control over the potential employee.

Next, when the act occurred, the employee must have been acting within his or her role as an employee. For example, if a pharmacist dispenses the wrong drug and causes the recipient to have a stroke, the act at issue would be the dispensing of the medication. Dispensation of medication would clearly be an action that is within the role of a pharmacist. However, if that same pharmacist snuck into a delivery truck and hit a pedestrian in the parking lot, there is a chance that the employer may not be responsible for injuries caused by their employee as driving a delivery truck is not something that would be done in a role as a pharmacist.

Additionally, the act (or failure to act) on behalf of the employee must have caused harm. To return to our example if a pharmacist dispenses the wrong drug and the recipient does not suffer injury or illness, the pharmacist’s employer would probably not be liable in a civil claim as no harm (or “damages”) occurred. 

Vicarious Liability in Rehabs

In a rehab facility, a patient will interact with a large number of staff members. Each of these staff members can have a different, yet critical, role to play in the treatment and recovery process. Physicians and nurses plan very important roles, especially during the incredibly critical withdrawal process (a time when patients are at serious risk for self-harm behaviors, and other physical complications). Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers help to monitor the mental health of patients as they undergo the rehab process, and must accurately asses if a patient poses a risk to him/herself or others. Nursing/medical assistants are responsible for dispensing the accurate doses of correct medication. These are only some examples of the medical personnel who may be involved in the rehab process; each organization is different and may involve a unique mix of staff.

In addition to medical personnel, other staff members have certain duties related to the safety of rehab patients. The condition of the treatment premises must be safe enough to limit the potential for injury- furniture and fixtures in good repair, railings on staircases, wet floors indicated with proper warning signs, etc. Staff should monitor and intervene in situations where a patient may attempt to harm another patient. A failure in any way to maintain a safe environment could constitute negligence.

Rehab Lawsuit Attorneys

The law does give victims the right to recover for injuries caused by an employee, but there are some limits to this. One of the most important is the statute of limitations. This is a concept that applies both to civil and criminal cases; in the civil court system, it is basically a time limit during which an injured party may bring a claim. Many personal injury claims have a two year time period during which a potential plaintiff can file suit (two years from the time the victim was injured or became aware of the injury). In many cases involving multiple medical professionals, it is difficult to understand if negligence even occurred, and if so, which provider was responsible, and exactly when it occurred. This is one of the reasons why, if your loved one was seriously injured or experienced serious illness in a rehab facility, you should consider consulting with an experienced attorney. 

The team at Gilman & Bedigian have spent decades litigating personal injury and medical malpractice cases, taking on major institutions and winning major verdicts. We pride ourselves on standing up for victims who otherwise do not have a voice. Contact our team for a free consultation.

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