Team Care: Plaintiff Failed to Establish Hospital’s Vicarious Liability for Team Care

February 1, 2014 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​As hospitals develop team-based care, plaintiff attorneys litigating malpractice cases may need to mold expert witness testimony to create a fit between traditional concepts of tort law and new patterns and approaches to healthcare delivery. Consider the decision of a Washington court of appeals to uphold a trial court's decision to overturn a jury verdict against a hospital based on vicarious liability and vacate a $583,000 award to a patient who claimed significant damage from a delay in diagnosis.

The jury had concluded that the patient's care team was negligent. The appeals court commented that while a hospital providing care through a team of employees will always be liable under a theory of respondeat superior for employee negligence, a plaintiff is still required to prove negligence on the part of a particular employee to establish vicarious liability. The plaintiff failed to do so in this case, the court concluded. If such proof was not required, the court wrote, then every bad outcome in a team care setting would result in liability. In other words, the team is not negligent, but rather "there...

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