What Is Vicarious Liability And How Does It Apply To Medical Malpractice Cases In Florida?
Gregg Hollander | June 20, 2022 | Medical Malpractice
When you go to the hospital for treatment, surgery, or a procedure, you are typically seen by a number of healthcare professionals. For example, a doctor may make a diagnosis, a nurse may prepare you for treatment or surgery, an anesthesiologist may provide an anesthetic, one or more doctors may perform the treatment or surgery, and another professional may provide aftercare for recovery from the treatment or surgery.
Therefore, if you are injured by medical negligence in the course of your treatment or surgery, it would be difficult to identify the person or persons responsible for your injuries. It is in these situations that the legal concept of vicarious liability may apply to help attribute fault for your injuries.
What Is Vicarious Liability?
Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that holds a superior entity or employer responsible for its employees’ negligence. In the example above, vicarious liability may apply to hold the hospital responsible for any medical malpractice or negligence that occurred during the treatment or surgery. Vicarious liability is commonly used interchangeably with the term “respondeat superior,” which is a Latin term.
For a respondeat superior legal claim to be successful in Florida, it must satisfy the following elements:
- The employee was negligent during their scheduled work hours;
- The negligence took place during an activity that the employee was hired and paid to do;
- The negligence was performed during an activity that benefitted the employer.
For example, if a doctor negligently performed surgery on you and you were injured as a result, you would likely be able to sue the hospital. This is because the example situation meets all of the elements for a successful respondeat superior claim: (1) the doctor is an employee of the hospital and performed the surgery during their work hours; (2) the negligence occurred during a task (the surgery) that the doctor was hired to perform; and (3) the negligence was committed during an act for which the hospital received some benefit (i.e., payment).
On the other hand, if a doctor left the hospital after their shift, had a few drinks at a bar, and crashed into you, it would not be a successful claim against the hospital. In this situation, none of the elements of vicarious liability are met.
What Does The Right To Control Mean For An Employer-Employee Relationship?
In a Florida medical malpractice lawsuit involving vicarious liability, you must first establish an employer-employee relationship between the hospital and the doctor or other healthcare professional. This is important because hospitals employ full-time doctors and doctors that are independent contractors.
Doctors working as full-time employees of the hospital likely have an employer-employee relationship with the hospital. Furthermore, the hospital likely has something known as the “right to control” the full-time employee doctor. The “right of control” gives the hospital the ability to control how a doctor deals with a patient.
If a hospital is able to exercise this “right to control,” it might be held liable for the doctor’s negligence. However, when there is no “right to control,” like in the case of an independent contractor, vicarious liability is harder to establish.
A doctor working as an independent contractor is likely working at the hospital outside of their regular work hours, and they do so to earn personal profit. As such, the hospital has a limited right to control the independent doctor.
In What Situations Does Vicarious Liability Apply To Medical Malpractice?
After an incident of malpractice, a hospital could be held liable if all of the elements mentioned above are met. Typically, hospitals are held liable when an employee commits negligence in the following situations:
- Failing to provide a correct diagnosis;
- Incorrectly administering medication;
- Errors made during surgeries or procedures;
- Failing to properly monitor a patient;
- Providing inadequate aftercare to a patient.
But this list is not exhaustive. If you’ve recently suffered from medical malpractice and are unsure of whether vicarious liability applies, reach out to a reputable attorney. Your lawyer can make sure that no stone is left unturned in pursuing compensation for your injuries.
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