I Fell in the Hospital — Can I Sue for Malpractice?

I Fell in the Hospital …

Somewhere between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people fall in United States hospitals every year. Falls are perhaps the most common safety incident reported in hospitals. Some falls in hospitals don’t result in serious injury, but many do. Serious falls can lead to fractures, internal bleeding, cuts and bruises. A fall can make recovery more difficult, painful, extended and costly — assuming recovery from the injury is even possible.

A hospital should (theoretically) be one of the safest places you can be. After all, it is filled with doctors, nurses, and medical equipment. Unfortunately, injuries and accidents can happen in the hospital just as in any other place. Sometimes an injury is the hospital’s fault, and sometimes it’s not. In the case of a fall in the hospital, even if the injury is the hospital’s fault, it may not be medical malpractice.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t sue the hospital if you suffered injury from a fall for which the hospital was at fault. It just means that you need to make the right kind of claim. You need to prove somewhat different things for a claim of medical malpractice than you do for a claim of ordinary negligence.

Medical Malpractice or Ordinary Negligence?

You may be thinking, “What’s the difference?” If you fell in a hospital and suffered injury due to the hospital’s fault, why does it matter what you call it? In a nutshell, your relationship to the hospital affects the nature of your claim.

Anytime you file a lawsuit claiming injury, you need to prove the “elements” of your claim. Think of elements as the necessary building blocks of a claim: if you are missing one, your claim will fail, no matter how strong the other building blocks are.

The elements of a medical malpractice claim are:

  • The existence of a duty between the hospital and the person making the claim (if you were a patient of the hospital, that creates a duty of care);
  • A breach of that duty, meaning that the hospital didn’t do something they were supposed to or did something they should not have done;
  • An injury;
  • Causation: the injury was caused by the hospital’s breach of its duty; and
  • Damages: the person making the claim suffered loss as a result of their injury.

For instance, many hospital patients are considered “fall risks.” They may be frail and elderly, weak from illness, disoriented due to medication or dementia, or some combination of these or other factors. But fall risks are so common that hospitals routinely assess patients for fall risks and have protocols to reduce the risk of falls. Not all hospital falls can be prevented, but a good percentage—perhaps a third—can be. A hospital that does not uphold the standard of care for fall prevention risks unnecessary injury to patients, and legal liability for those injuries.

A hospital could breach its duty of care to a patient in several ways:

  • Recognizing that the patient is a fall risk, but failing to take appropriate measures (like making sure bed rails are in use) to prevent falls;
  • Failing to diagnose a condition like stroke, dehydration, or syncope (fainting) that could make a patient a fall risk;
  • Failing to designate a patient with known conditions that contribute to fall risk as being at risk of falling;
  • Failing to recognize that a medication (or combination of medications) the patient is taking affects their strength or balance, increasing the risk of falls.

If the patient falls as a result of the hospital’s breach of duty, and is injured as a result, they may have a claim for medical malpractice. The hospital undertook a duty to care for their health, and made it worse instead. Often, in medical malpractice cases, it is necessary to have an expert witness testify to one or more of the elements, such as the hospital’s duty to the patient and how it was breached.

But what if someone was visiting a friend in the hospital and slipped and fell on an unmarked, freshly washed floor? Or on a slick of spilled salad dressing in the hospital cafeteria? Those things are clearly not medical malpractice. There was no provider-patient relationship, and the injury was not related to medical care. But the hospital could still have liability under principles of ordinary negligence, if it did not act reasonably — say, by placing “wet floor” signs on a freshly mopped floor, or cleaning up a spill it should have known about and dealt with.

What Should You Do After a Fall in the Hospital?

After your injuries are treated, the first thing you should do is consult with an experienced injury attorney about whether the hospital may be liable for your injuries. Regardless of whether your injury was caused by medical malpractice or ordinary negligence, you have only a limited amount of time in which to file a claim. An attorney can help determine whether the hospital may have been at fault, making it worthwhile to file a claim.

If you have questions about injuries suffered after a fall in the hospital, please contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.