Determining the Scope of Liability in a Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Case

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that acts to hold a principal liable for the actions of an agent. Under Washington, D.C. law, an employer can be held liable for the legally careless actions of an employee in a medical malpractice case, even if the employer itself did not commit any legally careless actions. Vicarious liability is based on a relationship between the parties. As a matter of policy, employers are held responsible in part because they are often better situated to provide financial compensation to victims.

In a recent case before one state supreme court, the court considered whether a hospital could still be held liable after a surgeon entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiff. In that case, a woman’s daughter filed a lawsuit after her mother died two days after undergoing surgery at a hospital. The woman’s daughter sued the hospital and two surgeons. One of the surgeons subsequently entered into a settlement with the plaintiff. As part of the settlement, the plaintiff signed a release, which released the doctor from all claims. The hospital was not involved in the settlement agreement. However, the hospital subsequently filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the release of the doctor released the hospital from vicarious liability for that doctor’s alleged negligence.

In that case, the state’s supreme court found that the release signed by the doctor also released the hospital from its vicarious liability arising from that doctor’s alleged negligence. The court reasoned that the purpose of the release in part was to reduce the plaintiff’s claims against other parties, so it served to extinguish the plaintiff’s claim against the hospital. It found that the release functioned to fully satisfy the plaintiff’s claims against the hospital.

Vicarious Liability in a Medical Malpractice Case

In contrast with the case above, the D.C. Court of Appeals has held in one case that a settlement with an employee in a medical malpractice case did not release the employee’s vicariously liable employer. In that case, Convit v. Wilson, the D.C. Court of Appeals found that a settlement with the primarily liable defendant, even when the other defendant is only vicariously liable, does not necessarily release the other defendant. Therefore, vicariously liable defendants may still be held liable in D.C. medical malpractice cases even after a settlement with the primarily liable defendant.

Get in Touch with a Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you want to discuss a potential claim with a medical malpractice attorney, call Lebowitz & Mzhen, Personal Injury Lawyers. Suffering an injury can be stressful and overwhelming, and you may be entitled to compensation for the injuries that you have been forced to endure. The Washington, D.C. medical malpractice attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have decades of experience representing medical malpractice victims throughout the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. areas, and we are dedicated to fighting for the rights of victims. For a free, no-obligation consultation with a medical malpractice attorney, call us toll-free at 800-654-1949 or contact us online via our website.

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