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How does vicarious liability apply to medical malpractice?

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2023 | Medical And Professional Malpractice

If you’re considering taking legal action, you may have heard the term “vicarious liability.” This typically involves a party’s indirect responsibility for causing someone’s harm. It falls under something called the respondeat superior doctrine, which means “let the master answer.”

For example, in a medical malpractice case, a surgeon may have direct liability for making an error. However, the hospital they work for may have vicarious liability if it knew that the surgeon was unfit and continued to allow them to operate. There may have been complaints from other hospital employees documented, which can verify this reality.

Similarly, a nurse who administers the wrong medication would likely be directly liable for harm caused by that error. However, if there was a problem with the system used to store and retrieve medication that allowed incorrect meds to be retrieved, the hospital and even others could have vicarious liability.

Before filing a lawsuit, it’s worthwhile to fully investigate the situation to determine who else besides the person directly responsible could or should have done something to prevent an individual’s harm. This is where having experienced legal guidance can make a big difference. It’s not unusual for personal injury lawsuits to name multiple defendants once all players have been properly identified.

One Ohio malpractice case and the limits of vicarious liability

One malpractice suit that ended up before the Ohio Supreme Court in 2022 involves vicarious liability, which Ohio law has recognized for over a century, and serves as an additional example worth exploring.

A woman sued a chiropractor whom she said ruptured her breast implant. The chiropractor left the state and managed to evade being served papers for the lawsuit until after the statute of limitations had passed. She continued her suit against the chiropractic group for which he had worked, claiming that it had vicarious liability. The group argued that since the suit against the chiropractor was no longer valid, neither was the suit against it. In a close ruling (4 to 3), the high court agreed.

This is just one example of why it’s best to take legal action, if it’s warranted, in a malpractice (or any kind of personal injury lawsuit) as soon as possible. This begins by first determining, in a medical malpractice case, whether malpractice as defined by the law, occurred. The sooner you do this, if you move forward with the claim, the easier it will be to get the evidence you need, to serve the appropriate plaintiffs and to preserve the validity of your case.