Fall injuries in hospitals can be especially hazardous. People who are in the hospital are already ill or injured, and may be unable to care for themselves properly. A fall can exacerbate existing injuries or create new injuries on top of existing illnesses.
According to the National Institutes for Health there are an average of ten falls per thousand patients in U.S. hospitals every day. Falls are a serious issue for hospitals and patients alike.
Causes of Hospital Falls
Hospital falls result from the same causes as falls outside the hospital, but in hospitals there are some specific hazards that heighten the risk of a fall. These include:
- Uneven walking surfaces: A hazard at any time, unmarked steps, or broken floors are especially dangerous for people who are suffering from balance issues or have mobility problems due to injuries.
- Objects in walkways: Hospitals often have equipment lining the hallways, such as carts or beds. If these block access to handrails or doorways, it can lead to falls.
- Wet or slippery surfaces: Hospital walkways have to be sanitized regularly for patient safety. Unfortunately, an unmarked slippery walkway increases the chance a patient may lose their footing.
- Lack of staff: All of the above problems can be addressed by sufficient staff who are properly trained. If there are not enough personnel to keep hallways clear, mop and dry the floors regularly, and assist patients during transport to and from their rooms, falls become more likely.
- Defective Equipment: Wheelchairs, handrails, and other equipment in the hospital gets used daily. Often times it's never checked or maintained and after a while can break and injure patients when they try to use it as intended.
Our client fell in the hospital due to defective equipment, watch her story.
Preventing Falls in Hospitals
Before breach of duty can be established in a wrongful death claim, it must be proven that the defendant had a duty toward the deceased. For example, if the death was the result of a motor vehicle accident, the driver of the other vehicle had a duty to follow traffic laws, remain within the speed limit, and otherwise practice safe driving. In the case of wrongful death suits brought against health care providers, those providers have a duty to their patients to provide reasonable medical care. A breach of this duty is considered medical negligence. A breach of duty can be either accidental or committed with the intent to cause harm.
The responsibility for preventing falls and fall-related injuries in hospitals lies with the hospital itself. They must keep their hallways clear and keep the floors free of water and debris that could cause slips and falls.
Patients in the hospital, or their family and friends, should make note of any hazards they see and inform staff right away. Although the duty to correct any issue is that of the hospital, patients should notify staff of hazards they see to help prevent accidents. This ensures that if a suit must be brought, the hospital cannot claim they were unaware of the hazard.
Because of the high cost of fall-related injuries in hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid no longer cover the cost of treatment for in-hospital falls. This means that insurance companies must foot the bill, and the hospital itself may be sued for liability in the accident. Therefore, preventing and avoiding falls is a priority of all healthcare providers.
Filing a Claim for a Hospital Fall
The hospital has a duty to keep patients safe from hazardous conditions that could lead to fall injuries. There are two general categories under which a patient can bring suit for a fall injury in hospital care: medical malpractice and premises liability.
To bring a medical malpractice claim against the hospital itself, the patient must be able to show that the hospital’s level of care was below the medical standard of care required to prevent the fall injury. Malpractice claims are difficult to prove, usually requiring expert testimony and extensive evidence of lack of care.
However, some things can make a malpractice claim viable. For instance, if the hospital lacked sufficient staff to care for patients, leading to a patient’s fall, this might be indicative of malpractice, especially if the management was aware of the shortage and did nothing to rectify it.
In a malpractice case, the total damages may be capped by law. Any malpractice claims that involve harm caused by medical personnel, such as improper administration of medication, may not be the fault of the hospital unless it can be shown that the hospital knew the staff member was negligent before the injury.
In contrast to malpractice, premises liability claims are easier to prove. These claims are based on the legal idea that property owners owe a duty of care to anyone on the premises. Floors should be clean, and hazards removed within a reasonable amount of time. In the case of hospitals, staffing should be adequate to meet the needs of patients.
Under premises liability, anyone who is injured in a fall in a hospital has a claim against the hospital for failing to prevent the injury. A patient's reason for visiting the hospital is not ordinarily relevant to this type of claim, as premises liability claims are not explicitly medical in nature.
For instance, if a patient was in the hospital for a hip replacement, they should reasonably expect that the hospital would provide them with a walker or wheelchair, as well as assistance whenever they're navigating the hospital's hallways. If the patient attempted to go to the bathroom at night and fell because nobody was available to help them, the patient might have a claim for malpractice.
However, if the patient was being assisted by an aide, and they both slipped in a puddle of water that had not been mopped up, both the patient and the aide would have a claim against the hospital under premises liability, since the fall was not caused by the patient’s reason for being hospitalized.
Whether the claim is for medical malpractice or premises liability against the hospital, suing a hospital is more complicated than suing the average business. Because most doctors work independently of the hospital — that is, they are not technically employees of the hospital — any lawsuit regarding the conduct of a specific doctor must include them individually. There are also other insurance pitfalls and hazards which must be taken into account in order to make a successful case.
Contact D'Amore Personal Injury Law for more Information
If you or a loved one have suffered a fall-related injury in a hospital, whether as a patient or as a visitor, you need specialized legal assistance. The medical malpractice attorneys at D’Amore Personal Injury Law can help you handle the complex details of bringing a successful lawsuit against a hospital. Your time for filing a case is limited by law. Falls in hospitals are serious, and you deserve just compensation for any injuries suffered. Contact us today for a consultation on your case.