Respondeat Superior

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The so often misunderstood doctrine of Respondeat Superior…

MISCONCEPTION: “Medical assistants work under the umbrella of the doctor, so if something goes it’s the doctor who will be held responsible for the mistake.”

We have said it before and we cannot emphasize it enough: this is not true! Medical assistants are just as responsible for their own actions, along with doctor who hired them, but first, let’s first define the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Definition of Respondeat Superior

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 specific task. What this means is that under specific circumstances, an employer (let’s say the doctor) is legally liable for the actions of his or her employees (servants) while in the course of their employment. The actions of the servant are imputed to the master.


Is the doctor responsible for the medical assistant? If a medical assistant is negligent carrying out duties in the medical office, he/she is directly responsible for his/her work, while the master, which is the supervising doctor who is also the employer, is vicariously liable for the medical assistant’s actions. If someone gets hurt during a procedure in the medical office there is a good chance that both will be named in a law suit, the medical assistant and the doctor.

Doctors and their medical assistants are expected to do everything they can to restore health and promote healing, not to cause harm. Medical negligence, or malpractice is a very serious offense, because of the breach of trust in the patient-doctor relationship and severe consequences to the victim’s well being and life. One reason why patients may allege negligence is not trusting the doctor, and/or the facility’s staff.

Good medical assistants will always keep in mind that their conduct and appearance reflects directly on the doctor and the practice and more often than not, maintaining good rapport with the patients is the first step in preventing dissatisfaction and complaints.

In the unfortunate event that a patient does threaten legal action against a doctor, or member of the medical office staff, the medical assistant should immediately look into the possibility of bringing the case before an arbitrator to try and settle the case out of court. Arbitration is a final, and binding resolution of a dispute by a person that is neutral, or a panel of several impartial arbitrators.

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To find out about how to initiate an arbitration procedure they can contact their city’s or state’s medical society. Here is a link to medical malpractice arbitration info.

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