Assigning Responsibility in a Wrongful Death Case: When Are Hospitals Liable?

Medical malpractice is one of the most difficult types of wrongful death case, from both an emotional standpoint and a legal standpoint.  Emotionally, survivors often second-guess their judgment because they were often involved in helping the deceased select the doctor or choose to have a procedure.  Legally, medical malpractice cases can be very difficult to establish because there are often no witnesses to the malpractice who are willing to come forward about any wrongdoing.  What makes it even more complicated is that sometimes the treating medical professionals are not the only wrongdoers.  Hospitals and other medical facilities may be liable for a death if their failure to comply with healthcare standards contributed to the death.

What type of evidence suggests that a healthcare facility may be liable for a wrongful death?  Failure to comply with sanitary standards, faulty equipment, and a poorly maintained facility are all signs that the facility may have contributed to a deceased’s death.  However, it is important to keep in mind that, even if the evidence clearly demonstrates that a physician, nurse, or other medical professional was responsible for the death, if the hospital was negligent in hiring, training, or supervising its employees, it may be liable.  For example, if a hospital continues to employ a healthcare professional with a history of failing to adhere to medical standards, then its failure to supervise and train the professional may be seen as a cause of the deceased’s death.

There are various ways that malpractice can contribute to patient death: failure to monitor vital signs; medication errors; misdiagnosing a patient; surgical errors; ignoring medical orders; and other types of negligence.  While an individual may be responsible for the individual act of negligence, a healthcare facility could be at fault if it: did not investigate the backgrounds of the professionals it employed; if it failed to get rid of dangerous employees; if it did not adequately staff the facility; or of it failed to establish and enforce safety or hygiene protocols.

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