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Who is liable in a medical malpractice case?

Let's say you just got home after a routine surgical procedure to correct an umbilical hernia. You're still groggy from the anesthesia, but you're glad the process is over. Now, you're looking forward to a speedy recovery and your hernia-free life ahead.

Within a few days, though, you're experiencing severe cramps and pains that aren't getting better. You go in for a checkup, and your surgeon says he needs to open you up for another look.

As it turns out, the surgical team left a sponge inside your body when they sewed you up, and that was the source of your extreme pain. Thank goodness they figured out what was wrong, but who's liable to pay for the extra surgery? And who's going to pay for the time you've spent unable to work, as well as your unnecessary pain and suffering and inconvenience?

Doctors and medical malpractice liability

There will likely be a central figure who is at fault in your medical malpractice case - usually the doctor or surgeon in charge of your medical care. When reviewing the fault and/or liability of your doctor, courts will look to see if the doctor acted in accordance with standard medical procedure. If the doctor's decisions, recommendations and actions on your behalf fell outside of standard medical procedure, then a malpractice event may have occurred.

Next, you must show that the doctor's actions - or inactions - directly caused you to suffer an injury. In the above example, the surgeon failed to remove a sponge before closing up the patient. This would be viewed as negligence, as the doctor failed to double check that all implements and sponges had been removed before finishing the procedure.

In addition to doctors, individual nurses and other health practitioners may also be liable for their actions -- for example, if a nurse failed to notify the doctor that a patient was in need of special attention, or if a nurse neglected to check up on a patient in urgent need of assistance.

Hospitals and medical malpractice liability

Through the legal concepts of 'vicarious liability' and 'respondeat superior' hospitals are liable for the actions of their employees. As such, if a surgeon or nurse commits medical malpractice that leads to a patient's injury, the hospital will also be liable for financial damages.

In addition, hospitals may be held liable for management and staffing failures that lead to a patient's injury. For example, a hospital might fail to hire sufficient staff to provide medical care for patients, leaving some patients neglected and unattended to. A hospital might fail to adequately research the backgrounds of its employees and negligently hire an incompetent or unlicensed physician. Or, a hospital might fail to stock the appropriate amount of supplies and drugs, causing unnecessary delays in patient treatment.

In some cases, a hospital will not be liable for a physician's actions if, for example, the doctor was hired as a contractor. As such, it is important to know how the hospital employed a specific physician before referencing the medical facility in a medical malpractice claim.

Filing a medical malpractice claim in Montana

If you or a family member has been injured by medical malpractice, one of the first steps in your lawsuit will be the determination of at-fault parties. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer will be able to review the facts of your case to determine the parties that will be liable in your lawsuit - such as doctors, medical staff, hospitals, outpatient medical facilities and more.

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