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Court Examines Vicarious Liability in New York Medical Malpractice Cases

The majority of expectant mothers in New York choose to deliver their babies in a hospital setting. Thus, if they suffer harm due to an error that occurs during or after their delivery, they may be able to pursue medical malpractice claims against those responsible for their harm. In many instances, this includes not only the attending physicians but also the hospital itself. In a recent New York opinion issued in a medical malpractice case, the court explained when a hospital might be deemed vicariously liable for the harm caused by the physicians it employs. If you suffered harm due to a hospital’s negligence, it is smart to speak to a Syracuse medical malpractice lawyer to determine your options for seeking compensation.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the decedent visited the defendant hospital for prenatal care. During a treatment appointment, it was determined that she had a myoma on her cervix, which the attending physician stated should be removed once the infant was born. The baby was delivered via cesarean four days later, and at that time, the myoma had grown from the size of a grape to the size of a grapefruit.

Allegedly, the attending physician ordered a biopsy three months after the birth of the child. The biopsy, which was ultimately performed twelve weeks after the birth, revealed that the decedent had cervical cancer. She died eight months later. Her husband filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the physicians involved in her care and the hospital. The hospital moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed.

A Hospital’s Liability for the Negligence of its Doctors

On appeal, the trial court ruling was reversed. The court explained that under the doctrine of respondeat, superior hospitals can be deemed vicariously liable for the malpractice or negligence of their employees who acted within the scope of their employment, but not for negligent care offered by an independent doctor.  For example, if a doctor was retained by the patient, the hospital would not be vicariously liable for their acts.

Further, when hospital staff merely carried out a private attending physician’s directives in caring for a patient, the hospital will not be held vicariously liable for harm that arises out of that care. There are exceptions, though, for cases in which staff follows orders they know are contraindicated by normal practice or when they commit independent acts of negligence.

Here, the court found that the hospital produced evidence that demonstrated, prima facie, it could not be held vicariously liable for the plaintiff’s harm. In response, however, the plaintiff raised triable issues of fact via an expert affidavit stating that the defendant hospital and its staff departed from the applicable standard of care. Thus, the trial court ruling was reversed.

Meet with a Trusted Syracuse Medical Malpractice Lawyer

When medical malpractice occurs in the context of a hospital setting, both the doctors responsible for the negligent acts or omissions and the hospital may be found liable. If you sustained injuries due to the carelessness of a physician, it is wise to meet with an attorney to evaluate your potential claims. The trusted Syracuse medical malpractice attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano Personal Injury Lawyers can assess your losses and aid you in pursuing the full amount of damages recoverable under the law. You can reach us through our form online or by calling us at 315-479-9000 to set up a meeting.

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