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The Law on Tort and Negligence

Tort, or negligence law imposes a minimum level of due care on all persons in their interactions with others,
including people who choose to volunteer. Negligence is generally considered failure to act with the prudence
that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.


When applied to the medical office or facility, negligence is a failure in a doctor's, supervisor's, nurse's,
paramedic's, or other allied health care professional's duties that may result in injury or damages that lead to
measurable physical, emotional, or economic harm. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, if a medical
assistant acts negligent or in an improper manner it implies a bad standard of conduct, which can lead to
liability issues for the employer if the bad act was committed on the job, performed as part of the job and the
kind of job that the employee was hired to do. Interestingly, and worth the mention: the top reason why a patient
may allege negligence is not fully trusting the doctor, and/or the facility's staff. Good medical assistants will
always keep in mind that their conduct and outward appearance reflects directly on how the public sees the
doctor and the business. When the medical assistant maintains good rapport with the patients, pays attention
to professional standards and appearance it is the first step in preventing dissatisfaction and complaints.


Tort law is the name given to a body of law that addresses, and provides remedies for civil wrongs that do not
arise out of contractual duties. A person who is legally injured may be able to use tort law to recover damages
from someone who is legally responsible, or "liable," for injuries. Generally speaking, tort law defines what
constitutes a legal injury, and establishes the circumstances under which one person may be held liable for
another's injury. Torts cover intentional acts and accidents.


Liability has become a major risk not only for practicing physicians but also for  medical assistants under their
supervision. Situations involving injuries or losses that generations ago would have been ignored by the injured
have now become the basis for lawsuits. As more people and lawyers become aware of the medical assistant
and their role a potential malpractice target is realized if patients believe they have received poor care. Injured
patients, either on their own, or encouraged by family members, friends, or their attorneys wind up taking these
cases to the courts. As in any legal proceedings, when a medical malpractice law suit is filed as many people
as possible will be named, this includes the doctor, the nurse, the medical assistant, even the secretary.

The Respondeat Superior Doctrine

Respondeat superior is a legal term that stands for "let the master answer". It is a
long established doctrine that applies when a master acts through the servant to
accomplish a task, such as the medical assistant acting as an extension of the
doctor to carry out certain procedures under the control of the physician.  Under
specific circumstances an employer (referred to as the master) is legally liable for
the actions of the employee (the servant), in other words, the actions of the servant
are imputed to the master. This is why a medical assistant must only provide direct
patient care under the DIRECT supervision of the doctor, and never act alone.
Let the Master Answer
Respondeat superior means, that when a mistake occurs not only is the employee who made the mistake liable, but also the one who is responsible for this employee. When applied to physical torts an employer/employee relationship must be established and the act must be committed within the scope of employment, i.e. substantially within time and geographical limits, job description, and at least with partial intent to further the employer's business.
Please Note: the information contained on this page is provided for information purposes only and should not be considered legal advice, nor is it a substitute or interpretation of regulations established by authorities having jurisdiction over practicing doctors, nurses and their medical assistants in your state. Please contact your State Board of Medical Examiners directly for specific advice, official business, or consult with your attorney. We cannot provide this information to you.
Is the Doctor Responsible for the Medical Assistant's Acts?

In other words, if a medical assistant acts negligently while carrying out duties in the medical office under the supervision of the doctor, is he, or she directly responsible for her work, while the master, i.e. the doctor, is vicariously liable for the medical assistant's actions? Truth is, If a patient or visitor to the practice gets hurt by the medical assistant then both could wind up getting sued, the medical assistant AND the doctor.
Issues With Respondeat Superior
In one very interesting report Attorney Neil Lieberman invited to comment on the issues of respondeat superior. He states that it creates legal issues that trap medical personnel, but since these cases are handled on a contingent basis, lawyers may be reluctant to sue people with a strong defense. Read below...

Invited Commentary by Neil Lieberman, ESQ
Read: Emergency Medicine, Nov. 2002 EMU PDF