You can delegate work, but you can't delegate liability

February 10, 2011

If you are negligent, you are responsible for any damages you cause to another person.

Key Points

Let's examine the ways a physician can be responsible for the acts of others. Your potential responsibilities relate to partnerships, employment arrangements, supervisory roles, and even contractual and statutory obligations.

PARTNERSHIP

Each partner of a practice may be sued separately or together. The practice also may be named in the lawsuit, and some insurance carriers provide extra coverage for such instances.

If a verdict for the patient is issued, then the jury allocates liability among the practice's partners. If the lawsuit is settled, negotiation with the malpractice insurer will determine how liability will be apportioned. If the court finds against the practice as a separate entity, then all members of the partnership will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.

Corporations do not have shared liability-one reason some physicians favor working in such entities. (Corporations do lose the tax advantage of reporting income, however. Limited liability partnerships and corporations are state-constructed entities that can allow both favorable tax status and the insulation from liability provided by incorporation.)

EMPLOYMENT

If you are an employer, you can be held responsible for the acts of your employees. "Respondeat superior" is the legal doctrine that an employer is liable for an employee's wrongful acts when the acts are committed within the scope of the employment.

The scope of employment is the range of reasonable and foreseeable activities that an employee engages in while carrying out the employer's business. If your employee moonlights at a hospital, you are not responsible for his or her malpractice at the hospital. If he or she punches a patient in the nose, you are not responsible for that action, either.

Protect yourself by carefully credentialing and/or screening potential employees and training and supervising those you hire.

Insurance usually covers the responsibility of the employer; most policies allow an endorsement for all named employees and sometimes also cover employee "slots."

This employment-related information can apply to other doctors, nurses, office staff, and, potentially, midlevel providers such as physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).

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