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Can The Hospital Be Held Responsible for a Patient’s Fall?

Can The Hospital Be Held Responsible for a Patient’s Fall?

Can The Hospital Be Held Responsible for a Patient's Fall?Falls are the number one cause of injury to hospital patients.  According to The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 700,000 to 1 million patients in US hospitals fall each year.  More than one-third of these falls result in serious injuries such as fractures, internal bleeding, head trauma, and even death.  Sadly, many if not all of these incidents were preventable.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality identified and endorsed a set of adverse events that should never happen in a healthcare setting.  This list of Serious Reportable Events or “Never Events” is a compilation of serious and largely preventable events.  Patient death or serious injury associated with a fall while being cared for in a healthcare setting is considered a “Never Event.”

Is this a case of medical malpractice?

Not all accidental injuries that happen in hospitals count as medical malpractice.  Some may qualify as a premises liability case.  In both types of cases, negligence must be proven.

Hospitals owe patients a duty of care while the patient is under their care.  The hospital and its staff accept responsibility for your care once you are admitted into the hospital.

The specific responsibilities a hospital has to safeguard patients against falls is documented in two ways.  The first relates to industry standards that are applicable to all hospitals. Protocols in hospitals are highly regulated and failure to follow industry practices can be considered medical malpractice.  The second relates to the hospital’s own policies and procedures.  Failure to follow internal procedures can be evidence of negligence and considered medical malpractice.

A hospital fall can sometimes be attributed to the property owner’s negligence.  Hospitals are obligated to maintain a safe environment for patients and visitors.  If liquids spill, they must clean them up quickly to prevent falls.  If a patient who needs assistance to use the bathroom calls for help, the staff must respond quickly so the patient does not attempt to make it on their own.  This means the hospital must maintain adequate staff so their employees can respond in a timely manner.  In a premises liability case, evidence must prove that the hospital knowingly allowed dangerous conditions to persist, causing a patient to get injured.

Medical malpractice cases require an expert witness (medical professional) to provide written testimony in the form of a sworn affidavit under oath specifying negligence.  The expert would provide perspective as to what the physician or the hospital should have done to avoid such an injury, identify the failure of the hospital or medical professional, and explain how the patient was harmed (damages incurred) due to the fall.

A premises liability negligence case, however, does not require that the plaintiff submit an expert affidavit at the time of filing a Complaint.  Evidence of the facility’s liability is limited to what was reasonable under the circumstances when it comes to maintaining the facility and keeping the premises free of slip-and-fall hazards.  However, in a hospital fall case, whether you assert a medical malpractice or premises liability cause of action (or both) it is best practice to have an expert on board at the outset of the case as it is very difficult to prove a hospital fall case without the testimony of a qualified hospitalist.

What to do if you have been the victim of a hospital fall

If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury from a fall in a hospital or other healthcare setting, the healthcare provider may be held liable.  Whether your injury arose from medical malpractice or ordinary negligence, you need to consult with an experienced medical malpractice and personal injury lawyer.  We encourage you to contact our office at The Baer Law Firm.  Or call us at 404.THE.BAER (404.843.2237) for honest advice about your potential case.