Going to hospital is always stressful. Any hospital visit can result in enormous life changes, whether positive (such as the birth of a child) or negative (such as a serious injury or illness).
We expect doctors and hospital staff to exercise the utmost care. Unfortunately, errors on the part of medical providers can result in serious injuries and even death.
If you or a loved one suffered harm as a result of hospital negligence, it is important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to compensation through a medical negligence claim against the staff member(s) who caused the injury, as well as the hospital itself.
Are Hospitals Liable for Medical Negligence?
Generally, most medical negligence claims arise from injuries caused by one or more medical professionals. In a hospital, this may include:
- Medical students
- Allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, etc.
- Medical technicians
- Administrative staff
The standard of care for each of these professionals varies by education, training, and job responsibilities (among other factors). You must be able to prove that the professional(s) providing your care deviated from the applicable standard, causing your injuries.
If you received the care as a patient of a public hospital, the hospital itself is generally responsible and therefore liable for the negligence. Any legal claim would be against the hospital itself, and not the individuals who actually provided the care.
If you received the negligent treatment from a private hospital, depending on the circumstances, the hospital where you received treatment may also be liable in a medical negligence claim. The key question is: Was the negligent provider an employee of the hospital?
Generally, claims involving negligence by hospital administration staff, nurses, and medical students are brought against the hospital but claims. However, against privately billing doctors and surgeons are brought against the doctor or surgeon personally, and not the hospital.
Proving Hospital Liability for Medical Negligence
The majority of hospital staff who are not doctors (from clinical care providers to administrators to support staff) are employed directly by the hospital. Hospitals have a responsibility to hire qualified employees, provide training, and supervise the staff. Should mistakes occur, the hospital has a responsibility to re-train, suspend, or terminate the responsible employee(s) so the same mistakes don’t happen again.
Hospitals also have a duty to ensure that they have reliable administrative systems and a safe and functioning environment. They have a duty to ensure that test results and letters are forwarded to the correct person. They have a duty to ensure that operating theatres are appropriately staffed, available as necessary, and have all the necessary equipment for the operations they offer. They have a duty to ensure that hospital beds and hospital furniture is safe for use and that their equipment is safe and functional.
If the hospital is negligent in these duties and a patient suffers injury or dies due to an error by a staff member or a failure by the hospital, the hospital is generally liable (a legal concept known as vicarious liability). An experienced lawyer can review your medical records as well as hospital employee records to (a) prove that medical negligence was the cause of your injuries and (b) establish the hospital’s liability for the negligence of an employee.
The same legal strategy may also apply if you were injured by the negligence of a doctor, medical specialist, or surgeon while in hospital. However, the employment relationship between doctors and hospitals is not always so straightforward.
In a private hospital setting, doctors may work in a hospital, but they rarely work for a hospital. In private and public hospitals alike throughout Australia, the majority of care is provided by “visiting medical specialists (who are not hospital employees).”
As such, you may be limited to filing a claim against the doctor who treated you or your loved one and not the hospital. However, it is important not to assume that this is the case without first talking to a lawyer.
What If the Hospital Made a Mistake?
Just like doctors, nurses, and other professionals, hospitals have a responsibility to patients as well. These duties include providing sanitary conditions, keeping accurate records, obtaining informed consent for procedures, and more.
Patients who are harmed as a result of negligent hospital administration and operations may also be able to bring medical negligence claims. Potential grounds include hospital-acquired infections, adverse drug reactions due to poor record keeping, and more.
How Much Compensation Can I Recover for Hospital Negligence?
In Victoria, medical negligence actions are a type of common law personal injury claim. These claims are governed by the Wrongs Act.
Under the Wrongs Act, victims of personal injury due to hospital negligence may be entitled to compensation for the following losses:
- Medical expenses related to the personal injury (past and present)
- The cost of rehabilitation and therapy (past and present)
- Expenses for hiring professionals to aid with housework and care for you
- The income you lose while you are unable to do your job
- Loss of future earnings or financial support
- The costs of providing care to dependents that you would have cared for yourself, but cannot as a result of your injuries
Those injured by hospital negligence may also be entitled to compensation for non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and loss of enjoyment of life) if the harm meets the threshold to be considered a “significant injury” as defined by law. Broadly speaking, a significant injury is one that results in severe and permanent physical or psychiatric impairment.
You will need to undergo a specialised medical assessment to determine if your injury qualifies as a significant injury. If impairment is assessed at a level that meets the significant injury threshold, your lawyer can serve the certificate of assessment to the hospital and any providers named in your medical negligence claim.
No one should have to go to hospital for the purpose of getting help, only to have their health suffer as a result of negligence.
Henry Carus + Associates have an in-depth understanding of the hospital and insurance system in Victoria. Our Medical Negligence Practice Group Leader, Michelle Dubrava, has spent years on both sides of these claims, representing injured patients and their families as well as defendant doctors and hospitals. Today, Michelle leads a team of experienced lawyers and knowledgeable staff in pursuing compensation on behalf of those who have been harmed by medical negligence in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
If you were injured by negligent medical care, You Deserve More. Lawyers at Henry Carus + Associates fully explore the seriousness of your injuries and how they will affect your life long-term. Then we collect all evidence and ensure that the documentation is in place to pursue recovery for all of your damages.
Please call Henry Carus + Associates at 03 9001 1318 today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our hospital negligence lawyers serve clients in Melbourne and throughout VIC.