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Injured by an On-Call Doctor’s Negligence?

May 26, 2021

Despite their best efforts to avoid liability, hospitals can be held liable under Illinois law for an on-call doctor’s negligence that causes or contributes to a patient’s injury. Even if the doctor that acted negligently is an independent contractor, the hospital is liable if it is reasonable for a patient to assume the doctor to be an employee of the hospital. Here is more on what constitutes an on-call doctor’s negligence.

Failure to Respond in a Timely Manner

Negligence includes an on-call doctor’s untimely responses. When on-call doctors fail to respond to patients in a timely fashion, patients can suffer injuries and deterioration of their conditions. As a result, the untimely responses can make doctors liable for injury or death.

Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a physician is required to appear and perform a patient evaluation in person if summoned by another medical professional. A hospital must have a response time in writing in place for an on-call physician. In addition, a physician withdrawing care from a patient without proper notice may be regarded as patient abandonment. The physician can be held liable for negligence.

Both an on-call physician and the hospital may face significant consequences if an on-call physician is found to have violated EMTALA.

The Informed Consent Process

Negligence also includes failure to provide a patient with proper informed consent. Medical practitioners are required to maintain proper physician-patient communication. They should understand the medical informed consent process and ensure a patient fully understands his or her situation before providing consent. 

Hospitals try to avoid legal liability by asking patients or legal guardians to sign consent forms to shift legal responsibility to on-call doctors practicing as independent contractors at the hospitals. Nevertheless, a patient can often still take legal action against a hospital even after signing such a consent form.

Under Illinois law, a consent form advising the on-call doctor is not an agent or employee of the hospital can be unenforceable if the language it contains is not clear, concise, and explicit, or if the hospital “held out” the doctor as its agent or employee through signs, advertising, or in other ways. 

Additionally, hospitals should not be absolved of liability through legal maneuvering. Hospitals are liable for a patient’s injuries when doctors who are their employees or agents commit medical malpractice. Considering how chaotic a hospital can be, a patient at a hospital is highly unlikely to be concerned with knowing if the treating doctor is an independent contractor or employee.

Under the apparent agency theory, if a hospital has doctors practicing as if they are employees, they are considered legally as employees in medical malpractice lawsuits. It is critical for people to be vigilant when they face malpractice and understand their legal rights under Illinois law. Medical negligence lawyers in Chicago help patients learn how they can protect their rights.

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