Under Pennsylvania medical malpractice law, hospitals in Philadelphia can be held liable when employees such as doctors, surgeons, nurses, etc., are negligent when providing medical care to a patient. This applies to emergency room care, surgical procedures, etc. In general, PA law recognizes claims against hospitals in medical malpractice cases: vicarious liability and corporate negligence.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the general doctrines of vicarious liability and corporate negligence against a Philadelphia hospital in a medical malpractice case. In Hurst v. Williams et al. (April 28, 2015), the court ruled in favor of the deceased patient’s estate and against the hospital. There, the plaintiff (estate) brought claims of vicarious liability and corporate negligence against the hospital for the patient’s death. The patient needed surgery after falling out of bed. The plaintiff alleged that during surgery, the surgeon lacerated the patient’s bladder and left gauze behind which resulted in the patient’s death from septic shock. Ultimately, the court allowed plaintiff’s claims of vicarious liability and corporate negligence.
Vicarious Liability Theory in Philadelphia Hospital Malpractice Cases
Medical malpractice lawsuits filed against hospitals in Philadelphia require evidence that a hospital employee was negligent in the medical care and treatment of a patient. General claims of agency or vicarious liability are sufficient. Under the doctrine of agency or vicarious liability, a hospital is liable for the acts of an employee who was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the incident. Usually, medical malpractice actions against hospitals will name specific doctors or specialists like a surgeon or anesthesiologist. However, it is almost impossible to identify other staff, such as nurses. Therefore, during the initial pleading stage, it is not necessary to name the specific employee. In other words, when the patient or estate of a deceased patient institutes a hospital malpractice lawsuit, PA law does not require that the complaint name every employee who was involved in the negligent treatment.
Corporate Negligence Theory (Hospitals as Corporate Entities)
Under the doctrine of corporate negligence, a hospital is liable if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed to a patient, i.e., the hospital breaches any of the four duties described below. Essentially, hospitals owe patients a duty to reasonably ensure the patient’s safety and well-being during their stay at the hospital.
In Pennsylvania, a hospital’s duties are delineated as follows:
(1) use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment;
(2) select and retain only competent doctors;
(3) oversee all persons who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care; and
(4) formulate, adopt and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for the patients.
Related: Pennsylvania Medical Malpractice – What to Do if You Suspect Medical Negligence
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