If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a fall that occurred in a hospital, you may have a claim against the hospital and the medical providers who were supposed to be caring for you. The basis of your claim will largely depend upon whether you were injured as a patient or a visitor and whether you fell because of a medical condition or because of a hazard on the property.
By way of example, an elderly patient was admitted to the hospital and marked as a high fall risk. She was placed in a bed, and the bed rails were left in the down position. She needed to get up to use the restroom and pressed her emergency call button for assistance, but no one responded. When she got up to go to the restroom herself, the bed alarm did not go off. She fell and fractured her shoulder on her way back to bed. In those types of situations, the hospital and staff owe patients a duty to prevent injuries from known hazards and risks like falls.
Below, we take a look at the types of claims that may be available in this kind of situation and other similar situations:
As a patient at a hospital, the hospital owes you a duty to exercise ordinary care in the provision of care, treatment and services to you. When the hospital or medical staff fail to exercise reasonable care and you are injured as a result, you may have a claim for general, or simple, negligence. In the example above, failures to exercise reasonable care may be things such as failing to develop fall risk interventions appropriate for the patient’s physical and mental status or failing to ensure that there were adequate interventions for the patient like an activated bed alarm in good working order. When the failures result from actions that do not require the exercise of an individual’s own judgment, then those failures may constitute simple negligence versus medical malpractice. The damages would be the same regardless of whether the claim is made for general negligence or medical malpractice, but there are some differences in the procedural requirements for each of those claims, which we discuss below.
According to the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. – right behind heart disease and cancer. In short, a medical malpractice claim stems from a healthcare provider’s mistake that results in an injury or death that would not have occurred if not for the mistake. The cornerstone of a medical malpractice case in Georgia is proving that the doctor, nurse, or other medical professional (1) acted in a way that violated the standard of care for their profession, and (2) that violation caused a patient’s injuries or death. The “standard of care” is defined as what a reasonably prudent medical provider would or would not have done under the same or similar circumstances. In essence, it boils down to whether the provider was negligent.
While hospital fall cases most times can be argued under the general negligence theory, to be safe, an experienced personal injury lawyer will include a claim for medical malpractice. When filing a claim for medical malpractice in Georgia, the law requires you to file an affidavit from a healthcare professional supporting your malpractice claim. For affidavits in hospital fall cases, you should get a nurse or other healthcare provider who is familiar with the guidelines and regulations of hospitals for patient response and monitoring time, fall risk assessments, and fall risk interventions. The standard of care in a hospital setting requires healthcare staff to provide appropriate monitoring of patients who are fall risks. Hospitals breach that standard of care when they fail to closely monitor fall risk patients or to implement adequate interventions for fall risk patients, such as properly working bed alarms. When such failures result in a patient falling and injuring herself, those failures constitute medical malpractice.
Another claim a patient may make after a hospital fall is that the hospital failed to hire, train, retain and supervise a sufficient number of qualified staff to provide the necessary care, treatment and oversight for the hospital’s patients. If you have facts that would support that the fall occurred because there were not enough staff on duty, this is a good claim to include in your case.
Visitors and patients alike can bring actions against a hospital in the form of a premises liability claim if they fall while on the hospital’s property. A premises liability claim will more likely arise if a visitor or patient slips or trips on a defect in the hospital, rather than falling because of some lack of proper medical care. In premises liability cases, there are no expert affidavit requirements, which make the cases easier to file.
Premises liability is a larger area of the law that refers to a landowner’s duty to use ordinary care in keeping the premises safe. This means that a hospital has a duty to act reasonably in protecting visitors and patients who are on its property. Premises liability claims involving hospital fall injuries usually involve either temporary defects or static defects.
A temporary defect is something like a spilled drink, debris, leaky roof or other foreign substance on the floor that creates a slippery surface or hazardous condition; whereas, a static defect is generally more permanent, such as a cracked sidewalk, uneven stairs, exposed manholes, etc.
As a general rule, a plaintiff who was injured as a result of a temporary or static defect in a hospital must prove four elements in order to be successful in his case: (1) that the hospital owed a duty to the injured person; (2) that the duty was breached by some failure of the hospital; (3) that the breach caused an injury; and (4) that the injury resulted in some sort of damages.
In addition to those elements, a number of other factors are taken into account in order to determine whether the hospital is liable for the damages from an injury in a premises liability case. For example, you are expected to use “ordinary care” in order to avoid being injured. So if you are walking and texting on your smartphone and accidentally step into an open manhole, a court might find that you failed to exercise ordinary care to watch where you were walking. Similarly, if the defect was in “plain sight,” a person using ordinary care may have been able to avoid being injured. Thus, a court may find that the person was comparatively negligent and rule in favor of the hospital in those cases.
It is important to determine the cause of the fall to figure out what type of claim to bring. Always be sure to take photographs of the condition of the property if you trip or slip and fall on something in a hospital.
These are but a few of the most common causes of action that can be brought against a hospital as a result of a hospital fall. Numerous other actions exist, but their viability will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Because of the complexities of this area of law, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney like Bethany Schneider of Schneider Injury Law to evaluate your claim. For a free case consultation, please call Schneider Injury Law at (404) 800-3060 or email Bethany directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Schneider Injury Law has experience and success in litigating medical malpractice cases, as well as specifically hospital fall cases.