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Do Inpatient Falls Constitute Medical Malpractice?

patient falling down

Inpatient falls may or may not constitute medical malpractice, depending on the circumstances. Even if the fall does not constitute medical malpractice, it might constitute ordinary negligence or product liability. However, typical negligence claims are typically easier to win than medical malpractice claims or product liability claims.

Slip and fall accidents are more common than most people realize. In the United States, over a million people visit the hospital every year due to slip and fall accidents. However, it’s a different story when your slip and fall accident occurs in the hospital itself.

The Elements of a Personal Injury Claim

Almost all personal injury claims, including ordinary negligence claims, require you to prove four essential elements to win.

Duty

First, you must show that the defendant owed you a duty of care. In an ordinary negligence claim, you may rely on the general duty of care—the duty to act reasonably to protect others from injury. Alternatively, you might depend on the responsibility of the owner of premises to conduct periodic safety inspections.

Breach of duty

You also must show that the defendant breached their duty of care to you. The defendant might have negligently failed to repair handrails on a stairwell, for example.

Damages

Next, you must prove that you suffered damages. Your injuries are objective evidence of damages, although the opposing party might claim that they are unrelated to your accident. You must have suffered some type of physical injury to qualify for “pain and suffering” damages, which can be substantial.

Causation

Causation requires you to demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence caused the damages you suffered. If you fell down the stairwell because you did not attempt to use the handrails, for example, your claim could fail.

The Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

A medical malpractice claim relies on the same four elements listed above, with certain modifications.

In medical malpractice, you must establish the “duty of care” element by proving a doctor-patient relationship. If the defendant agreed to treat you, you have probably established this element.

Usually, the existence of a doctor-patient relationship is easy to prove. However, the exact nature of a doctor’s duty of care toward their patient differs from case to case. It is far more complex than the simple obligation to act reasonably. Instead, it is the duty to perform with the degree of care that a “reasonable doctor” would have used under the same circumstances.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, an expert medical witness is usually needed to establish the duty of care and the breach of that duty.

The Elements of a Product Liability Claim

If a defective product caused your fall, you might have a valid product liability claim against the faulty product manufacturer. You might also sue anyone in the product’s chain of distribution.

The elements of a strict liability product liability claim are different from the factors that apply to an ordinary personal injury claim. They do not even require you to prove that the defendant was at fault. These elements include:

  • The defendant was a merchant in the product’s chain of distribution—the manufacturer, the wholesaler, the distributor, or the retailer.
  • The defendant is a merchant, not a private party.
  • The product was defectively designed, defectively manufactured, or contains inadequate product warnings. A drug that fails to mention that it will cause severe dizziness in pregnant women, for example, includes a “warning defect.”
  • The defect existed at the time the product left the defendant’s hands.
  • You obtained the product without a substantial change in the product’s defect.
  • The defect rendered the product “unreasonably dangerous.” Certain products, such as cars, involve inherent dangers, but these dangers are considered unavoidable risks rather than defects
  • The defect is what caused you the harm that is the source of your complaint. In the example above, you cannot claim product liability for an inadequate “dizziness warning” unless you experienced dizziness that led to a fall.
  • You suffered harm because of the defect (you were injured, for example).

Even though you don’t have to prove fault in a product liability claim, they can be complicated by all these additional factors. Product liability claims typically require substantial evidence and the assistance of an experienced product liability attorney who knows how to interpret that evidence.

Examples of Slip and Fall Claims and How They Might Be Classified

Following are some examples of scenarios that might lead to a particular type of claim against a defendant.

  • Your doctor prescribed you more than one medication, and the interaction between them caused you dizziness, which resulted in an inpatient fall. This would probably be classified as medical malpractice.
  • Your doctor fails to diagnose a condition that you suffer. You become confused and fall a flight of stairs as a result of insufficient safety precautions. This would probably be classified as medical malpractice.
  • You slip and break your hip on a just-mopped hospital floor, with no sign warning you of the floor’s slippery condition. Since your injuries did not result from medical treatment, your claim would probably be classified as an ordinary negligence claim.
  • You fall in a stairwell because the railing detaches from the wall while you are holding it. This would probably be classified as ordinary negligence.
  • You are injured when you fall out of bed due to a defectively manufactured guardrail. This would probably be classified as a product liability claim.
  • You fall because of dizziness attributable to a medication whose instructions failed to warn of this side effect. This would probably be classified as a product liability claim.
  • A patient becomes despondent and commits suicide by jumping out of a window at the hospital. This could be a medical malpractice claim if the doctor failed to diagnose depression. Loved ones may also have a wrongful death claim.
  • You fall when your walker collapses. This could be a product liability claim if the walker were defective. It could be a medical malpractice claim if the hospital assigned you the wrong type of walker.

As illustrated above, a single accident might generate more than one legal claim.

Can You Sue the Hospital for a Doctor’s Mistake?

You cannot always sue a hospital for its doctor’s mistakes. Many doctors are classified as “independent contractors” rather than employees. This distinction means that the hospital they work for is typically not responsible for their negligence. Before you sue a hospital for one of its doctors’ negligence, you need to find out whether the doctor is an employee or an independent contractor.

Even if the doctor is an independent contractor, however, you have potential avenues for recovery. Doctors typically carry generous medical malpractice insurance policies. Moreover, even without insurance, the average doctor can pay a sizable personal injury or medical malpractice claim.

Why It Matters What Type of Claim You File

Your likelihood of victory depends on two factors—what you have to prove to win and the specific circumstances surrounding your claim. These two factors are not independent of each other. Certain circumstances render it easier to establish some elements of a claim but more challenging to prove others. Following are some of the main reasons why certain types of claims are more straightforward to prove than others.

You Will Probably Need Expert Medical Witnesses to Win a Medical Malpractice Claim

Most expert medical witnesses are professional witnesses. In other words, acting as expert medical witnesses is their full-time job. Although expert witnesses demand payment for their testimony, Berkowitz Hanna will not bill you for their fees unless you win the case. The opposing party will undoubtedly bring the witnesses’s fees to the judge and jury’s attention, even though paying witnesses is routine in medical malpractice cases.

The opposing party might also call their expert medical witnesses, and the case could come down to whose witnesses the judge or the jury believes. The more technically complex the case is, the more likely it is that a jury will become confused. Juries tend to acquit defendants when they become confused. That is why it is our job to clarify all relevant issues.

Connecticut Requires You to File a “Reasonable Inquiry” Certification in a Medical Malpractice Claim

Connecticut doctors have suffered an avalanche of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. In response, the Connecticut General Assembly passed General Statutes of Connecticut Section 52-190a, which requires plaintiffs to file a “reasonable inquiry” certification before a medical malpractice lawsuit can proceed. The exact requirement does not apply to ordinary negligence lawsuits.

You must file the “reasonable inquiry” certification with the initial complaint, and it must include the following:

  • A declaration, signed by the plaintiff or their lawyer, stating that they have conducted a reasonable inquiry and concluded that there are grounds for a “good faith belief” that negligence has occurred; and
  • A signed opinion from a qualified medical expert, attesting that they believe that the plaintiff was injured by medical negligence and providing details supporting this opinion.

Submitting a frivolous reasonable inquiry certification can cause the court to impose sanctions on the plaintiff or the attorney who submitted it.

You Don’t Necessarily Have to Prove fault in a Products Liability Claim.

Connecticut law recognizes that it can be impossible to prove that a specific person’s negligence caused a defect in a product. Instead, product liability law contains the assumption that if the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous, somebody must have been negligent, even if it is impossible to prove who it was. This assumption provides plaintiffs with an easier road to prove liability. Nevertheless, a product liability claim can get technically complex.

Contact Berkowitz Hanna Immediately

The circumstances surrounding medical malpractice or other personal injury claim are like glue hardening around your feet. The longer you fail to take action, the fewer your options become until, eventually, your options disappear entirely. Your best chance of winning a slip and fall claim is to begin preparing for your claim as soon as you possibly can. Even if you didn’t do that, however, your claim might still be winnable.

The experienced Connecticut medical malpractice lawyers at Berkowitz Hanna have been winning medical malpractice cases for years, with a long history of multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Call us today at 203-487-5583 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.

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