Hospital Liability for Defective Medical EquipmentOn September 26, 2021 by Millerie Penbrock
When a hospital provides medical equipment for a patient’s use, it can be held liable if the device malfunctions and causes injuries to a patient. Hospitals can be held liable for medical equipment failure under various theories. For example, hospitals can be liable in negligence or medical malpractice if they fail to maintain medical equipment properly. Likewise, hospitals can be liable for failure to properly train hospital personnel in using the equipment. If the failure to properly train hospital personnel in using medical equipment leads to the negligent operation of the equipment, the hospital may be liable. Finally, a hospital can be liable for failing to test medical equipment prior to using it on patients.
In general, the equipment furnished by a private hospital for a patient’s use should be reasonably fit for the uses and purposes intended under the circumstances. If a product’s defect is a latent one, the hospital is likely to be responsible for its defects. When a product’s defect is patent, on the other hand, the physician using the equipment is generally held liable for failing to notice the defect. For example, in one case, a hospital was held liable for injuries to a patient that occurred when machine used in a skin grafting procedure malfunctioned. The court reasoned that the physician did not have a duty to dismantle the equipment before using it on a patient. Thus, the hospital, as the provider of the equipment, could be held liable for the malfunction.
In a cause of action against a hospital for defective medical equipment, a plaintiff usually has to prove that the hospital had control over the product up until the time of its use. For example, if a surgeon made a modification to a piece of medical equipment prior to using it in surgery, the hospital will likely not be liable for the product’s defect as the modification could have been the cause of the product’s malfunction. On the other hand, where the hospital controls and maintains the medical equipment up until the moment a physician uses it, it will generally be held liable for non-obvious defects in the product.
In addition to hospitals, manufacturers of defective medical products can be held liable for product defects. Often, plaintiffs will sue the manufacturer and the hospital. While actions against hospitals for defective products generally allege negligence, actions against manufacturers of medical devices are usually brought as product liability actions. If a product manufacturer has gone out of business or has gone bankrupt, a plaintiff’s only recourse may be to sue the hospital.
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