Falls in Hospitals and Medical Malpractice Law
Some types of personal injury claims may implicate multiple theories of liability. Falls at hospitals may result in a medical malpractice claim or an ordinary negligence claim based on a premises liability theory, depending on the facts of the case. The distinction can have significant implications for how the case proceeds and the damages that you can obtain. Generally, bringing a claim under a premises liability theory is more advantageous to plaintiffs than bringing it under a medical malpractice theory.
Is a Claim Malpractice or Premises Liability?
To lie within the scope of a medical malpractice claim, a fall at a hospital must have occurred while the patient was receiving treatment from a doctor. Negligent actions by the doctor that fell short of the medical standard of care in the situation must have caused the patient’s fall. This might occur if a doctor fails to properly diagnose a patient with a condition that affects their sense of balance, and then the patient suffers a fall because of that condition. At other times, patients may suffer falls because they are using medications that affect their sense of balance. Nurses and other hospital staff also may be liable under a malpractice theory if they fail to address obvious symptoms that indicate a patient’s difficulties with balance.
An ordinary slip and fall at a hospital more likely will result in a premises liability claim. The accident would need to be unrelated to the reason why the patient is seeking treatment at the hospital. For example, patients may be injured if the hospital’s maintenance staff fails to fix a leak, clean a spill on the floor, repair cracked or uneven pavement, or post signs about a hazard that cannot be immediately repaired. In this situation, the hospital is like any other type of property on which someone can be hurt, and hospital management has the same duties to a patient that any other property owner would have toward a person who enters their property.
Why Does the Distinction Matter?
Medical malpractice cases involve far more nuances and potential hurdles than premises liability cases. They usually require retaining expert witnesses to explain to the jury how the plaintiff’s case satisfies the elements of the claim. Medical malpractice plaintiffs also may need to file an affidavit of merit with their complaint. They may need to comply with other specific procedural rules, such as notice requirements before filing suit. Furthermore, damages are usually capped in medical malpractice cases, which means that there is a limit on the amount of compensation that an injured patient can receive. Depending on the specific incident, this may result in a victim not being able to receive full compensation for their harm.
By contrast, there are no expert requirements and no damages caps that apply to premises liability claims. Deadlines and procedural rules are the same as in other ordinary personal injury cases. However, if you assume that your case can be brought under a premises liability theory, but a court rules that it should have been brought as a medical malpractice claim, you may lose your right to sue. The law regarding this issue is complex and varies by state, so you should consult an attorney to determine which path to choose.
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