In Thompson v. Nason Hospital, 527 Pa. 330, 591 A.2d 703 (1991), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court first held that a hospital can be held directly liable for corporate negligence. The Court reasoned that the concept of corporate negligence should apply to a hospital so that a hospital is liable if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed the patient, “which is to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being while at the hospital.” Thompson, 527 Pa. at 339.
Corporate negligence is based on the negligent acts of the institution. Welsh v. Bulger, 548 Pa. 504, 513 (1997) (internal citations omitted). A cause of action for corporate negligence arises from the policies, actions or inaction of the institution itself rather than the specific acts of individual hospital employees. Id. Thus, under this theory, a corporation is held directly liable, as opposed to vicariously liable, for its own negligent acts. Id.
The court in Thompson held that a hospital has the following corporate duties: (1) a duty to use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment; (2) a duty to select and retain only competent physicians; (3) a duty to oversee all persons who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care; and (4) a duty to formulate, adopt and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for the patients. Thompson, 527 Pa. at 339-40.
“Because the duty to uphold the proper standard of care runs directly from the hospital to the patient, an injured party need not rely on the negligence of a third-party, such as a doctor or nurse, to establish a cause of action in corporate negligence.” Moser v. Heistand, 545 Pa. 554, 558, 681 A.2d 1322, 1325 (1996). To establish a claim for corporate negligence against a hospital, a plaintiff must show that the hospital had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect or procedures that created the harm. Welsh, 548 Pa. at 514 (internal citations omitted). The plaintiff also must establish that the hospital’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm to the injured party. Id. In terms of evidence, a plaintiff must produce expert testimony to establish that the hospital deviated from an accepted standard of care and that the deviation was a substantial factor in causing the harm to the plaintiff, unless a hospital’s negligence is obvious. Id.