Is a Teaching Hospital Liable for the Medical School’s Malpractice?


Many Florida hospitals have teaching affiliations with medical schools. This means that faculty and residents employed by medical school have staff privileges at the hospital. But the hospital is not necessarily responsible for any acts of medical malpractice committed by such doctors.

Tampa Hospital Off the Hook for Fatal Colon Cancer Surgery

Specifically, Florida law absolves a hospital of malpractice liability if it provides “separate written conspicuous notice” to the patient that he or she is receiving care from the medical school and not the hospital. If such notice is properly given, the medical school and its sponsoring university’s board of trustees are deemed to be solely responsible for any negligence on the part of its doctors.

A Florida appeals court recently addressed the application of this law in a tragic medical malpractice case. The plaintiff is a widower whose wife died during an operation at a Tampa hospital. The wife initially sought care in the hospital’s emergency department, presenting with symptoms of stomach ache and nausea. It turned out to be colon cancer.

More than a week later, two doctors operated to remove the cancer. During the procedure, the victim “sustained a tear to the wall of her inferior vena ceva,” the largest vein in the human body. She subsequently bled out on the operating table.

The two surgeons were employed by the University of South Florida’s medical school. The university had a teaching affiliate agreement with the hospital. The widower sued all of these parties for medical malpractice in the death of his wife.

The hospital moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The widower appealed. In an August 24 opinion, the Florida Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Second District noted the plaintiff’s wife “received three separate notices” prior to surgery informing her that the surgeons were affiliated with the university and not the hospital. This was more than sufficient to comply with the requirements of Florida law. Indeed, the decedent signed a form acknowledging that she read and understood these notices.

The widower argued that even if the surgeons were employees of the university, the hospital had a “nondelegable duty to provide nonnegligent surgical care” to his wife. The Second District disagreed. Once again, Florida law expressly allows hospitals to delegate liability in the manner it did. In addition, the court observed the hospital did not assume “any contractual obligations” with respect to the cancer surgery. The court further rejected the widower’s claim that federal Medicare law prevented the hospital from delegating liability: Noting that no other Florida court had ever made such a finding, “We decline the invitation to be the first.”

Get Help From a Florida Medical Malpractice Lawyer

The Second District’s decision only applies to the hospital. It does not absolve the university or its surgeons of any potential medical malpractice liability. But this decision emphasizes how Florida law often restricts the ability of malpractice victims, and their families, to hold all medical providers accountable for their actions. That is why, if you find yourself in this type of situation and need advice from an experienced Clearwater medical malpractice attorney, contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., at 727-510-8802.

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