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Slip and Fall Cases in Hospital Settings

If you have ever been treated at a hospital, you may have had to be escorted to the exit of the hospital in a wheelchair following your discharge even though you were perfectly capable of walking. The reason they do this is because they do not want to be liable if you trip and fall your way out.

Boston medical MalpracticeThere have been many incidents over the years where someone was walking down a hospital corridor and slipped and fell.  In some cases, these patients were seriously injured in the fall accident. As our Boston personal injury lawyers can explain, there have been cases where plaintiffs broke legs, writs, and hands when falling in a hospital.  This is why they escort everyone out in a wheelchair.  While they can say they are doing it because they care about the patients and do not want them to be injured, there is a much better chance they were instructed to do so by risk management. This is not to say they do not care about patients, only that it was not likely that was the reason everyone is carried out in a wheelchair.

Johnson v. Open Door Community Health Centers

In a recent case from the from the California Court of Appeal, plaintiff was at a clinic for a visit with a nurse practitioner. When she was escorted from the waiting area to the treatment room, she was taken to a nursing station where her vital signs were taken and she was weighed on a scale in the hallway.  This scale was located against a wall outside of the treatment center.

After being weighed, she was taken into the treatment room for her consult with the nurse practitioner. She was then told she did not need to have additional treatment and that she should go back to the reception desk in the waiting room.  She did not make it to the waiting room because she tripped on the scale and fell to the ground.  After falling to the ground, she suffered serious personal injuries.  She alleged the scale was moved while she was in the treatment room and it was not impeding her path to the exit and this is why she tripped and fell.

Two years following her incident, she filed a complaint in which she alleged negligence. Specifically, that it was standard negligence in moving the scale. The standard elements of any negligence claim are duty, breach, causation and damages.

In her action, claimant was not alleging medical malpractice, only that she happened to fall while in a medical office.  Defendant, however, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on grounds that the statute of limitation on a medical malpractice run as it is a one-year statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims in that state.  The argument was that her injuries were caused by a negligent act or omission by a healthcare provider in the rendering of professional services. Since the defendant essentially admitted the allegations with this defense, the only issue was whether the claim was time barred by the statute of limitations.

The trial court recognized that it was an unsettled question of law as to where the boundary was between a medical malpractice claim and standard negligence claim that occurred a medical setting. This may seem like a minor issue, but it is far from it as it would determine if the case was filed timely. The judge ultimately decided claimant was at the clinic to see healthcare professionals and the injury occurred while professional services were being rendered so it was essentially a medical malpractice claim. Her claim was then dismissed as being barred by the statute of limitations.

While the statute of limitations for medical malpractices is three years in the Commonwealth just like most other personal injury torts, there is a notice requirement and a medical malpractice tribunal requirement so the best thing a plaintiff can do is to speak with an experienced Boston medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to avoid any of these issues.

After Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed, plaintiff filed an appeal arguing that hers was a negligence case and not a medical malpractice case.  On appeal, the court agreed with plaintiff that this was not a medical malpractice case.  It was a normal personal injury case that happened to occur a medical center, but that the injury and alleged negligence was germane to the treatment had received prior to her accident.  If this accident had happened to a pharmaceutical representative who happened to at the clinic to meet with staff that day, it would not be considered a medical malpractice case, so the mere fact that plaintiff was a patient should not chance an ordinary negligence claim in a medical malpractice claim.  The court reversed and remanded the case finding that the state’s two-year statute of limitations did apply and that the case as timely filed.

These are complex issues and they or may not arise in a typical personal injury claim. Every case if unique as the facts are never exactly the same. The best thing a plaintiff can do is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer about the facts of plaintiff’s actual situation.

If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Johnson v. Open Door Community Health Centers, September 11, 2017, California Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Slip-and-Fall Injury Suffered by Child Litigated Years Later, April 2, 2017, Boston Injury Lawyer Blog