Hospital liability: Who is accountable when health care goes wrong?  | Luvera Law Firm Skip to content

Hospital liability: Who is accountable when health care goes wrong? 

By George M. Ahrend

“Every medical malpractice case is a corporate negligence case.”
John Budlong 

When we are sick or injured, we trust our doctors and health care professionals with our lives. Beyond those individuals, we also trust hospitals and other medical facilities to create an environment that is safe, efficient, and conducive to high-quality care. Unfortunately, that’s not always what patients get.  

The effects of negligent medical care are devastating, leaving people with avoidable and permanent impairment, pain, or disability – or leaving their loved ones grieving their untimely death. But due to a shell game of corporate structure, independent medical groups, less-regulated outpatient centers, and insurance companies, hospitals and other facilities are often able to deflect accountability for substandard care provided within their walls. 

This evasion is possible because hospitals are rarely the legal employers of the physicians providing care. More often, those providers belong to private medical groups or function as independent contractors. Hospitals also require providers to have their own malpractice insurance, usually with coverage as minimal as $1 million, which barely scratches the surface of the devastating losses patients and families suffer.  

Through these complicated technicalities, hospitals can muddy the waters and deflect accountability onto the individual physician or a medical group when a patient is maltreated or suffers injury or death due to medical negligence.  

Sometimes injured people and families are reluctant to file a medical malpractice case because people generally like their doctors as individuals. That brings to mind something my late friend and brilliant legal mind John Budlong said years ago: “Every medical malpractice case is a corporate negligence case.”  

Put another way, medical malpractice usually results from the conditions under which hospitals and other corporate health care providers make physicians work. The most patient-centric hospitals implement systems and processes that support safety and prevent errors, creating double-checks and maintaining an environment that protects against substandard care by any single individual. Unfortunately, poor or nonexistent safety systems and greedy incentive structures can force doctors to work under conditions where high-quality care is far more difficult to provide. 

We’ve seen numerous examples of these practices in Washington, including a case in Walla Walla where the medical center allowed and facilitated surgeries that weren’t medically necessary, but provided a strong revenue stream. In another case that our own firm brought against UW Medicine, the medical center forced an unnecessary and wasteful appeals process in attempt to deny liability. Squeezing providers to treat as many patients as possible manifests in questionable practices, such as Swedish Medical Center surgeons scheduling overlapping surgeries to maximize patient volume – without allowing patients the opportunity to give informed consent 

In cases like these, the legal system is often an individual’s only tool to force accountability and shine a light on practices that put patients in danger. One such case was our client Missy Kurtz, who suffered a broken arm and a permanent loss of function, independence, and quality of life after technicians at University of Washington Medical Center failed to follow the hospital’s own safety procedures for disabled patients. In another case against Swedish Medical Center, the hospital tried to evade liability by pinning the blame on one contracted doctor as well as the patient, who was one of their own nurses. 

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or impairment after a hospital or health care provider’s negligence, our firm may be able to help. Contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation.   

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A blurry action shot of medical professionals in blue scrubs rushing a patient on a gurney down a hospital hallway

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