Hospital contractors are anesthesiologists, radiologists, and others, who work in the hospital under contract but bill patients directly for their services. Hospitals used to claim they were not responsible for those providers, since they were no
t payroll employees, and hospitals did not have the right to control their actions. To protect hospitals even more, these doctors would set up professional corporations, which would contract with the hospital to supply services. However, courts in most states ruled that hospitals were liable for the actions of those doctors, because patients are not offered a choice but must accept whatever doctor the hospital selects to do the job. Ask yourself these four questions to help you decide whether the hospital was responsible for the doctor’s medical malpractice:
1. You expected the hospital to provide the service and had no idea who would do it. You did not go to the hospital to consult any particular doctor. You went to the hospital to have a test, an x-ray, or an operation. Basically, you asked the hospital to provide a service and relied on it to provide someone competent.
2. You were not given a choice of doctors. The night before surgery a doctor comes into your room and tells you he is the anesthesiologist and is going to put you to sleep tomorrow. You have never heard of this doctor, and it seems the hospital has authorized him to give you anesthesia. Legally, this is called the Doctrine of Apparent Authority. The patient is given the impression that the doctor is working with authorization of the hospital. It is common practice for people, who have x-rays taken in hospitals, to be billed by the radiologist or his corporation. It is reasonable to suppose that a hospital decides which doctors will work in its x-ray department and retains the power to supervise their actions. That is why the hospital is liable for the actions of its contractors.
3. The doctor does all or most of his work in the hospital. An Indiana hospital claimed it was not responsible for the anesthesia death of a patient, because it had contracts with two different groups of anesthesiologists, who arranged schedules, coverage, and fees amongst themselves. The court held that the hospital was liable, becausethe doctors did not work in any other hospital, and the only purpose of the contracts was to shelter the hospital against lawsuits.
4. The hospital supplies the equipment used by the doctor. In an Alabama case, a patient sued both the radiologist and the hospital for misreading her x-rays. The hospital said it was not responsible for the doctor, because he maintained a fully-equipped Radiology office outside the hospital and worked at two other hospitals. However, the court said the hospital was liable, because it supplied the technicians and equipment used in taking the x-rays and was responsible for the doctor’s actions.
Can you also sue the employee or contractor, as well as the hospital? Yes. Just because the hospital is responsible for the actions of people it engages to render services does not mean that those people can do as they please. You can also hold them personally liable, and sometimes you must sue both to protect your legitimate interests.