Who Can Be Sued When Medical Malpractice Occurs in New Jersey
Have a medical malpractice claim in NJ – How do I know who to Sue?
Medical errors are costly, to the tune of $20 billion a year, deadly, causing approximately 100,000 deaths a year, and perhaps most disturbing, often preventable. If you’ve gone to the hospital or your doctor’s office for a routine procedure and left with a serious infection, complications, or other injuries, you know all too well how costly medical mistakes can be. When your simple one-hour procedure turns into a 10-day hospital stay to treat a life-threatening medical problem, you want to know who’s responsible for your added expenses, and the undue pain and suffering inflicted upon you but those who swear an oath to do know harm.
For patients adversely affected by medical malpractice in New Jersey, those patients need to prove that medical malpractice occurred. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it’s one of the most important steps in the process of filing a medical malpractice suit. But let’s say you have the evidence and information to establish this fact. Then the question becomes “who can you sue?” What parties, entities and people can be held liable for the pain and suffering you endured as the result of a medical error, or a botched surgery, or some type of sub-par medical care? Here’s what to know about who can be sued for medical malpractice and how to build a solid case.
Who can You Sue for Medical Malpractice in NJ?
Any healthcare provider or medical establishment can be sued for a medical error in New Jersey, including:
- Urgent care centers
- Physician’s assistants
- Pharmaceutical companies; and
- Any other member of the healthcare team.
Medical errors, of omission or commission, can happen anywhere down the medical chain of health services. The crucial question in a medical malpractice claim is who or what caused the patient’s injuries. Medical errors may be active (through commission) or latent (through omission). Errors due to insufficient team preparation, poor communication, faulty equipment, or systemic failures are active errors, meaning doctors and nurses actively make mistakes, like giving the wrong medication to a patient or misdiagnosing a patient, causing permanent injuries or lengthy hospitalizations. Both are failures to follow standards, either system-wide or individual.
Latent systemic errors are typically due to poor equipment servicing and practices deviating from an existing protocol or standard of care, which constitute negligence. Negligence is conduct that falls below the expected care standard of a healthcare professional under similar circumstances. For instance, failure to follow up with lab tests or communicate results to the patient’s treating physician is considered negligence.
Identifying Negligent Parties when Medical Errors Occur in NJ
The most common errors occur with diagnosis, medication, surgery, equipment, infections, falls, system breakdowns and technology. Most mishaps occur under emergency situations in ERs, ICUs and surgery centers. Diagnostic errors or delays are most common at solo primary care facilities where practitioners can’t discuss their cases with others. Moreover, failure to order lab work, refer patients to the right specialist, and follow up underlie many malpractice claims. But not only solo practitioners can be negligent. Misdiagnosis occurs among technicians and specialists, like radiologists and pathologists, as well.
The individual medical staff members that handled a patient who was negatively affected by their care can also be held liable for medical malpractice. Nurses, pharmacists and physicians may make mistakes performing their jobs; inserting the wrong catheter tubing or dispensing the wrong medication, for example. With thousands of medical devices available, equipment errors due to improper maintenance, implementation, design or placement can be fatal, especially for implants like pacemakers. Systemic failure, however, most often causes infections due to hurried or lax personnel or equipment hygiene.
Additionally, patients injured falling at medical facilities result from vigilance errors over older patients or those on medications that affect balance and blood pressure. Finally, documentation failures, like putting the wrong information on the wrong chart, and interpersonal communication errors between providers and patients, and healthcare workers among themselves, can lead to incomplete delivery of medical information and treatment.
Pharmaceutical companies can be held liable for prescription errors, prescription defects, and failing to inform patients of the side effects of their drugs. A pharmaceutical company may likewise be responsible for manufacturing drugs that harm a patient if the manufacturer did not advise the physicians who administer the drugs to patients of potential dangers and side effects of the drugs, but it depends on circumstances. Should the doctor, with their medical training and education, have known about the potential side effects and dangers of the drug administered to their patient even without the manufacturer’s warning? If the answer is yes, the doctor may be liable for patient injury. In some cases, both the treating physician and the pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer can be held liable in a particular case.
Vicarious Liability: The Respondeat Superior Doctrine
Oftentimes, an employer is responsible for the errors of their employees, a legal concept called vicarious liability. The hospital can usually be held liable, though this isn’t a guarantee. Hospitals are corporations, and they are either public or private. They can be held directly liable for their negligence, or they can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of their employees. Hospitals, for example, may be responsible for the failure to keep accurate records, leading to the wrong treatment given to a patient, or may be responsible for a malfunctioning automatic door injuring someone entering the hospital. A hospital can also be responsible for one of its employed doctors misdiagnosing a patient, causing prolonged pain, suffering and treatment.
Respondeat superior is the legal principle that allows an employer hospital to be sued if their employee was negligent. Vicarious liability occurs under the “respondeat superior” clause, which says that an employer is liable if an employee was acting within the course of his or her employment when the negligence occurred. Direct liability, or hospital negligence, occurs under similar criteria to “corporate negligence.” If the hospital failed to do a proper background check on a doctor or nurse; if the hospital fails to have proper staff on hand; if they fail to uphold and enforce their own safety procedures; then they can be held directly liable. Hospitals who contract with doctors as independent contractors, however, may not be liable under that doctrine.
A Medical Malpractice Lawyer can Help Determine who to Sue for Medical Errors in NJ
So, how do you know who was responsible for your extended hospital stay or long-term complications? Was it the nurse who didn’t wash their hands thoroughly, the urologist who inserted the catheter, the surgeon who botched your surgery, the doctor who told you the wrong diagnosis, or the hospital workers that failed to monitor your dangerously high blood pressure? Healthcare providers have a duty of care to prevent foreseeable harm to patients. And while a nurse who didn’t wash their hands may be liable to you for the infection, your family physician that ordered the treatment for your condition and is supposed to be supervising, may also be liable. Furthermore, if a specialist directed your physician to treat you, this healthcare provider may be liable if they gave careless or negligent direction to the generalist or failed to follow up.
Finding the responsible party, knowing who to hold accountable, and meeting all the legal requirements of a malpractice claim can be overwhelming. Fortunately, a skilled and experienced medical malpractice attorney can ensure that you include all the right defendants in your lawsuit and can guide you through the legal process of recovering your economic and non-economic losses. Our attorneys at Fronzuto Law Group fulfill this role on behalf of our clients who have been injured by medical malpractice in NJ virtually every day, and we’ve been doing it for years. To discuss your unique case with our team and find the assistance you need to identify negligence and construct the most compelling claim for damages, contact our New Jersey offices at 973-435-4551 today. We are here to provide answers in a free consultation and if you enlist our help, we will provide the utmost guidance and representation in your case.