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Who Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice?

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September 27, 2023

Medical malpractice cases are highly complex and often involve various parties. Knowing who to hold accountable for your injuries is not an easy task, and requires a thorough investigation of your case and the people or organizations that may be legally liable. This article is a starting point for understanding the different types of defendants, the complexity of deciding who to sue, and the reasons for suing different parties in a medical malpractice claim. However, if you are considering bringing a medical malpractice claim, you should discuss your individual case with an attorney who has experience in medical malpractice. To speak to one of the medical malpractice attorneys at Morris James about your medical malpractice claim, contact us online or by calling 302.888.6857.

Potential defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit

When bringing a medical malpractice claim, people often assume the defendants will be the doctors. A common example of medical malpractice is the surgeon who makes an error in the operating room and injures the patient, but medical malpractice is much broader than that. It encompasses any instance where a healthcare provider fails to meet the established standard of care and, as a result, causes harm or injury to the patient. Our attorneys discuss more reasons why patients bring medical malpractice lawsuits here

Defendants in a medical malpractice or medical negligence lawsuit can be any healthcare provider, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even healthcare facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. In essence, any healthcare professional or entity that provides substandard care leading to a patient's harm can be a defendant in a medical malpractice case. 

Common defendants in medical malpractice claims include:

Physicians: Physicians, whether surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, OB-GYN doctors, hospitalists, or other doctors, are often named in medical malpractice lawsuits because they are typically the most visible healthcare providers with responsibility for their patient’s care. 

Hospitals or Medical Facilities: Individual clinics and hospitals, or entire healthcare systems, can be held liable if either their employees or their systems, policies, and practices fall below the standard expected by law. If an employee or contractor is negligent, the law might hold the employing healthcare facility liable. Also, if the healthcare facility did not have appropriate systems in place to prevent or detect negligence, the healthcare facility may be liable.

Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, and Physician Assistants: If a nurse, nurse practitioner, or P.A., fails to follow the doctor's instructions or makes a mistake administering medication, operating medical equipment, or commits any other error when providing medical care, they could be a defendant in a lawsuit. Even if an employment agreement protects the nurse or nurse practitioner from individual liability, the employer healthcare provider can still be held liable.

Pharmacists and Pharmacies: The hospital pharmacist or an independent pharmacy is responsible for providing the correct medication and dosage for the patient. They are also responsible in some situations for appropriately counseling the patient about the medication. If the pharmacist makes an error that harms the patient, they could be held liable. 

Pharmaceutical Companies: Pharmaceutical manufacturers can be sued if their drugs cause harm due to being defective or improperly labeled. Many pharmaceutical companies try to avoid potential liability with overzealous warnings on their packaging, however, pharmaceutical companies have been held liable in the past in medical negligence and product liability cases.

Medical Device Manufacturers: If a medical device is found to be faulty or fails to function as it should, the manufacturer can be held accountable if that causes harm to the patient. This can include devices in the hospital or clinic and those intended for at-home use.

The complexity of deciding who to sue

Determining who is at fault in a medical malpractice case is complicated. It requires an in-depth understanding of the facts of the case including medical protocols, diagnoses, procedures, and acceptable standards of care. This helps to determine who made an error or did not provide appropriate care. It is also crucial to understand that different defendants may be responsible for different aspects of the malpractice. For example, a surgeon might be liable for a surgical error, but the hospital could be responsible if the nursing staff failed to provide proper post-operative care.

Your medical malpractice lawyer must also investigate the legal and financial status of the parties involved. Your claim could be dismissed if you sue the incorrect person who is not legally liable, or your claim could be unsuccessful because you pursue a defendant with “empty pockets.” (This refers to the impracticality of suing someone that does not have the money to pay you compensation even if you win your case.) 

Finally, your lawyer must evaluate the strength of your case against potential defendants. In order to win your case, you must be able to prove that the defendant was negligent, and that their negligence caused your injury. This involves analysis of complex legal concepts in addition to the factual details.

Legal relationships affect liability

The legal relationship between potential defendants and its effect on liability in a medical malpractice lawsuit is complex and will change from case to case. Healthcare systems are built on complex contractual arrangements with various entities and individuals. Sometimes physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners are employees of the healthcare system, and sometimes they are employed by third party providers or are independent contractors. This affects who is held liable in a lawsuit. Within the organizational structure of a healthcare system, there are often different legal entities/companies, and it is important for your lawyer to determine which should be named in a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

Legal relationships can also lead to additional parties being involved in a lawsuit. In a single case, multiple parties may be named as defendants and held liable. For instance, a negligent act by a doctor could implicate the hospital as well, particularly if the hospital failed to enforce applicable standards of care. Similarly, a nurse's error could be related to a doctor's inadequate supervision or a hospital's negligence in training. Pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers could be involved if their products, integral to the treatment, were defective or mislabeled. And, in cases where malpractice insurance companies are involved, that can add more complexity and more issues to navigate. Thus, determining liability often requires dissecting the roles and responsibilities of each party and their relationships with each other. 

Reasons for suing multiple defendants in a medical malpractice suit

It is typical to name multiple defendants in a medical malpractice suit. The reason is simple: to ensure that your case covers all bases and that you receive full compensation for your injuries. However, there are times when naming only one or two organizations may be more advantageous. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate which is the better option in your particular case.

When your case is first filed with the court, your lawyer may name many defendants. As your case progresses, your attorney will find out more about the facts of the case and the legal relationships between the parties during discovery in the lawsuit. In addition, some defendants may settle the claims against them. Both of these developments can result in some defendants being removed from the lawsuit. 

It is logical that a medical malpractice claim will involve more than one defendant healthcare provider because medical care is complex and relies on multiple people and systems working together to provide adequate care. 

How will your attorney help you determine who to sue for medical malpractice?

Hiring an experienced medical malpractice attorney is crucial to navigating and succeeding in a medical malpractice case. From the very start of your case, they will analyze who could be held liable for your injuries under the law, and the strength of your case against each potential defendant. Your medical malpractice lawyers will work with their network of expert witnesses to assess your case comprehensively and gather the necessary evidence to present a compelling case in court. They will strategically use the legal process to draw out more information about your case and the identity of the people and legal entities involved so that all potential defendants can be pursued. Your attorneys will also negotiate with the parties and their insurers to obtain fair settlements for you before your claim against some or all of the defendants makes it to court. And, if a fair settlement cannot be reached, your attorneys should be ready to try the case. 

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you or a loved one has been harmed by medical malpractice, we can help. Our medical malpractice attorneys are available to talk to you about your rights and the options that you have at this difficult time. Contact us online or call 302.888.6857 to find out more.

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