The Law Offices of John Phebus

Patients can sue hospitals for doctors being uninsured

Arizona patients may be interested to learn about a medical malpractice case that recently was decided in New Jersey by that state's Supreme Court. In that decision, the court ruled that patients may sue hospitals which employ uninsured or inadequately insured doctors if the hospitals failed to conduct due diligence in determining the insurance status of the doctors they employed.

In the New Jersey case, a man who had suffered from a herniated disk went to a board-certified anesthesiologist for spinal fusion surgery at a hospital. The doctor reportedly placed screws incorrectly, which resulted in severe nerve damage in the man's feet that made him fall when he tried to walk. The doctor's medical malpractice coverage specifically excluded spinal surgery from the doctor's coverage. The man then sued both the doctor and the hospital for medical negligence.

The trial court threw out the claims against the hospital but awarded the man $750,000 against the doctor. The appellate court upheld the trial court's decision to dismiss the insurance allegations against the hospital, and the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court. In its split decision, that court ruled that people can sue hospitals when their doctors do not have sufficient coverage or a $500,000 line of credit to cover the surgeries they perform. The court also ruled people cannot sue the doctors solely on the basis that they are uninsured and thus committing a misrepresentation, as they should be punished by the state's medical board rather than by the judicial system.

While the case controls only New Jersey malpractice cases, it is still instructive. If a doctor in Arizona commits medical malpractice while not carrying the mandated malpractice coverage or line of credit, it may be possible to sue the facility at which the procedure was performed. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to determine whether the hospital conducted due diligence in verifying the coverage of their doctor.

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