If you've recently been left with a serious injury due to what you believe is surgical malpractice, you may be wondering about your next steps. For many, this can include a legal claim against your treating surgeon (or his or her employing hospital) for medical malpractice. However, if you discover your injury was due not to the carelessness of a practicing surgeon, but a surgical resident, may your claim proceed, or are you instead reduced to suing the surgeon for failure to adequately supervise? Read on to learn more about how malpractice claims against surgical residents are processed.

Are surgical residents vulnerable to malpractice claims? 

Surgical residents certainly aren't immune from malpractice lawsuits, despite their different experience and responsibility levels as compared to practicing surgeons; in fact, the average malpractice insurance payout on behalf of surgical residents is nearly $1 million. The majority of malpractice claims against surgical residents involve either lack of supervision or errors in medical judgment (which can often be compounded by a lack of supervision), both of which tend to relate to a resident's relative lack of experience. 

Just about every hospital that employs surgical residents will require them to carry a minimal level of malpractice insurance. Because surgical residents are often deep in debt from medical school and have just begun to make a good income, few have the assets to pay the type of judgment that can be levied in a malpractice lawsuit; insurance can cover these costs and ensure that the injured plaintiff is adequately compensated without necessarily bankrupting the responsible party. 

In many cases, especially if the injury was the result of a lack of supervision, you may also opt to sue the supervising physician and the hospital. This can allow you to access the "deeper pockets," so to speak, which is often necessary if you're facing an injury that will ultimately cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages and medical bills. Suing the resident doesn't necessarily mean giving up your potential claim against other parties--in fact, in many cases, it can do precisely the opposite, providing you with a bargaining chip you'll need to sue the hospital.

How may a malpractice lawsuit against a surgical resident differ from one against a practicing surgeon?

Because a surgical resident is at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole in the medical world, they can be easy targets for lawsuit, with some hospitals even refusing to produce requested records relating to their own policies or the supervising physician's actions unless you've named the resident as the primary defendant in a malpractice case. As the lawsuit proceeds, you and your attorney may agree to drop the resident as a named defendant in favor of going after the supervising physician and hospital exclusively. This usually means your best strategic bet is to name as many prospective defendants as you can, later agreeing to drop some who may not be crucial to the verdict in able to streamline your stronger case against the most well-funded and culpable defendants.

It's important to be prepared for the possibility that the supervising physician and even the hospital may attempt to throw the resident under the bus, denying any responsibility in the actions (or inactions) that led to your injury in an attempt to ensure the entire settlement or judgment amount is borne only by the resident's malpractice insurance policy. By being prepared for this line of defense, you'll be able to proactively gather information and evidence that supports your claim and ensure that all responsible parties are held legally and financially responsible for your physical, emotional, and financial injuries.

For more information, contact a malpractice lawyer.