Hospitals are rarely the first target of a malpractice lawsuit.

In a medical negligence suit, the primary defendants are typically individual doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.

Filing a lawsuit against the hospital is typically a tactical decision based on the amount of malpractice insurance carried by individual medical staff members. The hospital’s insurance coverage may be higher and its pockets deeper.

The complaint in a lawsuit against a hospital usually claims either negligence or “vicarious liability” on the part of the hospital.

Vicarious liability

The hospital may be held liable for the actions of an individual medical professional due to legal doctrines that hold employers liable for the negligence of their employees.

Vicarious liability therefore allows damages to be sought from the party considered financially responsible.

However, if the suit involves care provided by intendent contractors, the liability of the hospital may be more limited than suits involving direct employees.

This protection often applies least to emergency room or outpatient settings.

Hospital negligence

Every patient comes to the hospital with an existing medical history. If they can be said to discourage taking this history into account or observing the orders of a patient’s physician, lawsuits may focus on hospital procedures.

Although courts generally protect hospitals that stop accepting new patients while on diversion, they are required to maintain sufficient staff to ensure an adequate level of care for admitted patients. Staff shortages can result in suits against the hospital.

Lawsuits often seek to hold a hospital responsible for its hiring practices. In such cases, the hospital should benefit from being prepared to demonstrate reasonable inquiries were made into the licenses, background and experience of medical staff.

Suits sometimes argue that a staff member should have been dismissed by the hospital prior to and alleged act of malpractice and that the hospital was negligent in retaining the employee. While dismissals can bring lawsuits, so can retention.