What is institutional negligence?

Under the theory of institutional negligence, patients can hold hospitals and nursing homes liable for injuries they incur when seen there. On the other hand, in professional negligence a patient sues her doctor or his professional corporation for her injuries. Courts have found that there is significant distinction between institutional negligence and professional negligence.

Why is this an important distinction?

Hospitals are becoming large corporate entities that employ hundreds, in some cases thousands of individuals, including doctors. It may well be that a patient is injured because employees violated certain policies, regulations or accreditation standards.

Here is an example: A patient was seen in a hospital emergency room with abdominal pain. She was sent home with a diagnosis of urinary tract infection. Several days later her personal physician admitted her to the hospital with a ruptured appendix. She developed numerous complications. The hospital had a policy which required emergency room personnel to check the status of patients on the next day of those who had been sent home the previous day. They failed to do so in her case. She sued on a theory of institutional instead of professional negligence. The court found the hospital liable for failing to follow its policy of calling patients on the next day to check on their condition.