The healthcare company is directly responsible for the culpable conduct of the personnel working at its facility

The Court of Cassation, with ruling no. 13869/2020, returned on the discussed issue of the responsibility of the healthcare company for the damages suffered by patients as a result of the negligent conduct of doctors and professionals employed at the healthcare facility.

The case dates back to 2002, and sees as opposing parties the parents of a newborn, who died few hours after the birth, and the healthcare company managing the hospital were the childbirth took place, together with the doctors who treated the woman during the labour. The child’s parents claimed that the death of the newborn had occurred as a result of the negligent behaviour of the medical and paramedical staff operating at the healthcare facility, seeking compensation for the damage suffered.
The Tribunal of first instance rejected the plaintiffs’ claim, but the ruling was than overturned by the Court of Appeal, that condemned the healthcare company to pay compensation in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, according to the healthcare company, the ruling of the Court of Appeal was not legitimate under various aspects, considering that it affirmed a contractual – and not extra-contractual – liability of the healthcare company in the absence of evidence of a specific conduct attributable to someone among the hospital’s personnel.

The Court of Cassation, rejecting the healthcare company’s appeal, referred to the its consolidated orientation on the matter, according to which the healthcare company is liable – on a contractual basis – for the damages suffered by the patient both when they are a consequence of its own fault (inadequacy of the facility) and when they depended on the negligent or culpable conduct of the facility’s doctors and personnel.
Moreover, the contractual liability of the healthcare company cannot be excluded even in the absence of a formal contractual relationship with the medics and paramedics, given that the debtor who uses the work of third parties in the fulfilment of its obligation is also liable for the intentional or negligent acts of such persons, even if they are not employees, “in this case, operating the principle of appropriation or use of the work of the third party referred to in art. 1228 of the Italian Civil Code“.

The liability of the debtor with reference to the damages caused by its auxiliaries is therefore directly related to the fact that the former is free to decide how to fulfil the obligation undertaken towards the patients, accepting the risk associated with the chosen methods. Therefore, as the Court concluded, the debtor liability in these cases does not originate from the debtor’s fault in selecting its auxiliaries or monitoring their work, but it is rather connected to the risk pertaining the use of third parties in the fulfilment of the contractual obligation undertaken.

Sara Cancian