Generally speaking, a physician is not liable for the negligent actions of hospital employees and staff who are not employed by the physician. There are, however, two key instances where a physician can be held liable for a non-employee’s negligent actions: 1) when the physician discovers a non-employee’s negligence during the course of ordinary care and fails to correct or otherwise prevent the ill effects of the negligent act; and 2) when the non-employee is under the physician’s supervision and control such that a “master and servant” relationship exists.
Over the past several decades, the viability of this “captain of the ship” doctrine has diminished, for several reasons. The court in Truhitte v. French Hospital, 1982 128 Cal.App.3d 332, 348, explained “that the captain of the ship doctrine arose from the need to assure plaintiffs a source of recovery for malpractice at a time when many hospitals enjoyed charitable immunity, which is no longer the case,” and also noted that other jurisdictions were moving away from a strict application of the doctrine. The Truhitte court also stated that “the theory that the surgeon controls all activities of whatever nature in the operating room is unrealistic in present-day medical care where today’s hospitals hire, fire, train and supervise their nurse employees, implement surgery protocols and can absorb the risks of noncompliance.” The effect of such rulings was that physicians were less likely to be held liable for the negligence of hospital employees and staff.
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