In a medical malpractice case, the family of a deceased loved one often wants to hold as many parties liable as possible, and understandably so. In many of these cases, a beloved family member has unnecessarily died as a result of some negligent act or omission, and surviving family members are angry, confused, and want to find out who is responsible. Unfortunately, one of the lesser-known subtleties of medical malpractice cases lies in who, exactly, can be held responsible when a patient dies from a medical procedure. Often, doctors are not truly “employees” of a hospital, and thus a hospital or surgery center may not be responsible for negligence that occurs there.
Patient Dies During Cancer Surgery
In 2009, Mrs. Annie Godwin went to the Tampa General Hospital emergency room suffering from a severe stomachache, nausea, and decreased appetite. She was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with colon cancer, and scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor. Sadly, the surgery turned tragic when Mrs. Godwin sustained a tear to the wall of her inferior vena cava, which caused excessive bleeding that led to hear death. Mrs. Godwin’s husband, Arthur Lee Godwin, sued the University of South Florida, both operating physicians, and Tampa General Hospital, the primary teaching hospital for USF’s college of Medicine.
Hospital Not Liable
In his suit, Godwin alleged that the operating physicians were agents of Tampa General Hospital (TGH), thus making them liable for their actions. He also claimed that TGH had a nondelegable duty to provide Mrs. Godwin with nonnegligent surgery and failed to do so. TGH claimed that it was not liable, as the physicians responsible for Mrs. Godwin’s care were independent contractors employed by the University of South Florida (USF). The circuit court and the appeals court both agreed with TGH, ruling that the physicians were not TGH employees or agents, but were employees of USF, and therefore TGH had no liability.
The court dismissed the suit against Tampa General Hospital (TGH) based on several forms Mrs. Godwin had signed. The day before her surgery, Mrs. Godwin met with one of the operating physicians, to discuss the procedure and sign a Consent & Disclosure for Medical and/or Surgical Procedures, which included language stating that the physicians, surgeons and assistants were not hospital employees. She had also signed a Special Notice form upon being admitted to the ER stating that the treatment she would receive would be provided by physicians who are employees and agents of the USF (University of South Florida), as well as a Certification and Authorization form explicitly stating that emergency physicians along with other medical professionals practicing in the emergency and trauma centers are not agents or employees of TGH. While this ruling does not mean that Mr. Godwin cannot recover damages from USF or the physicians, if a court should rule in his favor, it does mean that he cannot recover anything on behalf of his wife’s estate from Tampa General Hospital. These seemingly minor details in contracts and authorization forms can actually make a great difference to the viability of claims, so it is incredibly important to make sure you read and fully understand all medical documentation before signing.
Have You or a Loved One Been Harmed by a Hospital or Doctor’s Negligence?
If your loved one has been injured or killed after a medical procedure and you believe a physician or hospital is at fault, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We know that no amount of money can replace the loss of a loved one, but you should not have to bear the burden of financial hardship. The experienced medical malpractice lawyer, John Piccin at Piccin & Glynn has handled medical malpractice cases for decades, and he can help you through this difficult process. Call John at 352-558-8480 for a free consultation to discuss your case today.