Why Choose a Private Hospital?
Did you know you are better protected in the event of medical negligence if you choose a private hospital instead of a public one? When selecting a hospital or medical provider for medical treatment – know there is a big difference in the ability to recover for medical negligence as between them. Public hospitals, like the Medical College of Virginia, are operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and also are often teaching hospitals. Put very simply, a public hospital and its employees generally are protected from being sued by a concept called “sovereign immunity.”
What does “sovereign immunity” mean?
Sovereign immunity is a judicial doctrine that prevents the government or its political subdivisions, departments, and agencies from being sued without its consent. The doctrine stems from the ancient English principle that the monarch can do no wrong. Over the years that doctrine has been extended to protect the public purse, that is, the taxpayer’s money. However, given that medical providers at public hospitals generally have malpractice insurance, the public purse rarely is actually implicated.
Does this sovereign immunity extend to all employees of a public hospital?
Generally, so long as the employee is using some discretion in providing care, the answer is yes. In a recent Virginia Supreme Court case handled by our law firm, Pike v Commonwealth of Virginia, the Virginia Supreme Court extended this immunity to nurses as well.
So can there be any recovery at all when sovereign immunity applies?
There is a very limited recovery of up to $100,000 available if notice is given within one year of a claim under the Virginia Tort
Claims Act for claims arising from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any Commonwealth employee while acting within the scope of his or her employment. However, most cases of medical negligence involve injuries and damages well exceeding $100,000.
On the other hand, private hospital and provides cannot claim sovereign immunity. If they cause injury due to medical negligence, they can be liable up to the statutory medical malpractice cap in Virginia of two million dollars.
What does this mean?
While all hospitals and medical providers, regardless of whether they are public or private, generally strive to provide the highest
standard of care, medical mistakes can and do happen. Just be sure to be educated on the concept of “sovereign immunity” and how it can impact possible recoveries for such mistakes when you choose public hospitals and medical providers over private ones. There is a big difference in a recovery of up to $100,000 versus up to two million.
Assessing cases of medical negligence requires very experienced legal counsel. This article provides general information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. For more details please be sure to contact an attorney. Article provided by Colleen M. Quinn, Esq. For more about Ms. Quinn, please visit Colleen Quinn, Esq..
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