The legal theory of vicarious liability is based on the concept that an employee engaged in activity on behalf of his or her employer can, if his or her behavior is culpable, lead to liability on the part of the employer as well. In Ohio vicarious liability can occur in the setting of medical treatment, because although some health care professionals like physicians are solo practitioners, many others work for a larger organization like a hospital.
Medical malpractice claims are directed against individual health care workers, such as a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. These claims depend on a showing of professional negligence based on incorrect decisions or actions of individuals, such as a surgical error, or a misdiagnosis. The organization that such a person worked for at the time of the injury can also be joined as a defendant based on vicarious liability, but the cause of action depends on the acts, decisions or failure to act of people who were involved in medical treatment decisions.
Hospital negligence claims focus more on the organization as a defendant, and are not necessarily tied to specific medical mistakes made by one of that organization’s employees. It may be helpful to think of hospital negligence as similar in some ways to premises liability: it is the environmental situation that is important in causing the harm. So, for example, negligent hiring decisions, or inadequate staffing, or failure to properly adhere to personnel training policies or to supervision, or even unsafe physical conditions can all lead to the health care facility itself being sued for injuries to others, even if no specific act of medical malpractice occurred in connection with these circumstances.
As you may imagine, medical malpractice actions and hospital negligence causes of action often appear together in lawsuits when a plaintiff claims injury in a hospital setting. Skilled personal injury attorneys will always seek to include all plausible defendants and causes of action in settlement negotiations or litigation to maximize the chances of recovery for their clients, whether it be based on individual medical malpractice liability or organizational hospital negligence.