Hospital Slip and Fall Accidents in Florida

Posted By on April 21, 2016

There is no shortage of hospitals in South Florida: from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami-Dade County, to Memorial Hospital in Broward County and Good Samaritan Hospital in Palm Beach County, along with many (many!) others; there are literally dozens of health-care facilities offering hospital-level medical care here.

Which is a good thing! Anyone seriously injured in South Florida is going to have to travel a relatively short distance to get help and emergency care.

Sometimes being in close proximity to a hospital can mean all the difference between life and death. So, having all these hospitals in South Florida is important to all of us.

 

Mercy Hospital in Miami Florida

Miami, Florida: Mercy Hospital

Slip and Falls on Hospital Premises

Should you have to visit any of these medical facilities, at any time of the day or night, you will expect to see clean, sterile, well-lit environments with alert, competent staff and service workers. Right? Of course. We all assume that hospitals are some of the safest places in the world — this is where lives are saved, and injuries are healed, and babies are born.

However, hospitals are simply enterprises run by human beings; they are corporations overseen by boards of directors and they have a management staff just like any other business.

Sadly, the reality is that mistakes can be made in these facilities just as they can happen in schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping malls. And some of these mistakes can cause people to be hurt, like in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident.

The truth is that slip and fall accidents happen all of the time in hospitals here in Florida, even though this doesn’t get much publicity.

Sometimes, the slip and fall injury victim is someone who works for the hospital itself. A lab tech, a nurse, a doctor: they may lose their footing in the course of doing their job and fall, sustaining serious injuries.

Other slip and fall accident victims at a hospital are patients, who may be vulnerable to falls due to their ill health or recovery process (crutches can be tricky), as well as loved ones visiting patients and third party service providers (delivery men, gift store employees, cafeteria staff, etc.).

What Causes a Slip and Fall Accident in a Hospital?

Fall accidents on hospital premises can be caused by all sorts of things, such as:

  • A tear in the carpet or in the flooring (panels, tiles, linoleum) that may cause someone to stumble and fall;
  • Hazards like tossed magazines, food wrappers, tissues, or other pathway items that can easily cause a trip and fall accident;
  • A spill on the floor of a patient’s room, in the halls, or in a waiting room, where liquid will cause someone to lose their footing;
  • Wiring from equipment that is loose or low to the ground;
  • Loose handrails in elevators or along stairwells or hallways; or
  • Poor lighting in hallways, parking garages, or patient rooms.

How Do You Prove That The Hospital Was At Fault For Your Slip and Fall?

In order to prove that the hospital was the cause of your slip and fall, you must establish liability through facts and circumstances that show that the hospital breached its duty (see next sub-heading) in maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition.

Proving fault can be achieved through investigation and gathering evidence. For example, if someone was hurt in a slip and fall in a hospital cafeteria due to spilled orange juice after the breakfast was served, then the injured person will want to ask someone to take pictures of the clothes he or she was wearing, the orange juice on the floor, and gather any witnesses to testify.

Additionally, if a hospital employee who came to help the victim said something along the lines of, “I told the maintenance crew to clean this spill up half an hour ago,” this would be a statement that the victim would want to put in writing, as it could be crucial to proving his or her claim.

Collecting as much physical evidence and testimonies is very important to an accident victim’s claim, as it diminishes the chances of the defendant prevailing with certain defenses such as comparative fault, for example. If the defendant can prove comparative fault, then an accident victim may be barred from receiving compensation for more than half or even most of his or her damages.

Do Hospitals Owe a Duty of Care Like Any Other Business in Florida?

Regardless of whether the hospital operates as a for-profit enterprise or a non-profit endeavor, the premises liability laws of the State of Florida provide that the hospital has a duty to keep those invited onto its property safe from harm. This means that a hospital has a legal responsibility to protect staff, employees, visitors, and patients from accidents.

If the hospital fails to meet its duty of using reasonable care, then it can be held liable for damages.

(To learn more about Florida premises liability law as it applies to slip and fall accidents, read our series of posts on this topic here.)

What Types of Compensation Can a Hospital Slip and Fall Victim Receive?

If you suffered from a slip and fall injury as a result of a Florida Hospital’s negligence and have proved that the hospital was at fault, you may receive compensation for your damages. Some of these damages may include:

Economic damages:

  • Loss of earnings
  • Medical bills
  • Costs for future medical care
  • Loss of future earnings

Non-economic damages:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Read: What Kind of Florida Personal Injury Money Award Can You Expect To Receive if You Are Injured? Economic vs Non-Economic Damages

The Serious Danger of Slip and Fall Accidents in Florida Hospitals

So, how dangerous and vulnerable are Florida hospitals to slip and fall accidents? Very.

Studies have been done on this issue by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in addition to private research groups contracted by insurance carriers and hospitals themselves.

Additionally, the government at both the state and federal levels has passed laws and legislation that have made hospital premises some of the most heavily regulated areas of any industry operating in the United States. OSHA has tallied 115 different agencies that work to regulate and monitor the health care industry in some way.

From these research studies and extensive agency oversight, we know the following:

1. Falls and fall injuries in hospitals are the most frequently reported adverse event among adults in the inpatient setting. If you are going to be injured in a hospital, odds are high it will happen in a slip and fall accident.  See, Quigley, P., White, S., (May 31, 2013) “Hospital-Based Fall Program Measurement and Improvement in High Reliability Organizations” OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 18, No. 2, Manuscript 5.

2. Some accidents happen over and over again, for the same reason.  There are certain kinds of fall risks that seem to pervade the hospital environment.  In fact, the CDC has identified a list of “top 10 hazards” for a slip and fall injury in a hospital. They are:

1. Contaminants of the floor;
2. Poor drainage: pipes and drains;
3. Indoor walking surface irregularities;
4. Outdoor walking surface irregularities;
5. Weather conditions;
6. Inadequate lighting;
7. Stairs and handrails;
8. Stepstools and ladders;
9. Tripping hazards: clutter, loose cords, hoses, wires, and medical tubing; and
10. Improper use of floor mats and runners.

3. Workers in a hospital setting are particularly vulnerable to slip and fall accidents. If you work at a South Florida hospital, then your risk of being hurt on the job in a fall is higher than if you worked somewhere else.

Where are hospital workers at the most risk? OSHA warns that the following areas pose greater than normal dangers for slips, trips, and falls for hospital workers (including care providers like nurses, doctors, etc.):

  • Slippery or wet floors, uneven floor surfaces, corridor clutter, and areas with inadequate lighting;
  • Unguarded floor openings and holes;
  • Damaged stairs and stairways;
  • Elevated work surfaces with no guardrails;
  • Inadequate aisles for moving residents; and
  • Improper use of ladders and stepstools.

Ways to Prevent Slip and Fall Accidents in Florida Hospitals

So, how can Florida hospitals minimize this danger of slip and fall accidents? What can be done to keep people safe from a fall while on the premises of a Florida health care facility?

Regulations

From OSHA comes regulations like the following, which are federal laws the hospitals are required to obey:

1. Workers should keep floors clean and dry, 29 CFR 1910.22(a)(2);
2. Workers should provide warning signs for wet floor areas, 29 CFR 1910.145(c)(2);
3. Where there will be liquids and wet processes in use, hospitals need to maintain drainage and provide false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places where practicable, or provide appropriate waterproof footgear, 29 CFR 1910.141(a)(3)(ii);
4. Any surfaces where someone will be standing or walking should be kept clean, orderly, and in a sanitary condition, 29 CFR 1910.22(a)(1); and
5. Exits must be kept free from obstruction and access to exits must alway be clear. 29 CFR 1910.36(b)(4).

Procedures

From the CDC comes the following suggestions:

1. The hospital should study its history of slip and fall and trip and fall accidents. They should collect past claims and demands by victims, as well as workers’ compensation claims, incident reports, and occupational health nurse logs. From this, the most common dangers and risks can be identified and fixed (or minimized).

2. The hospital should have someone assigned to go out and check the premises for these fall hazards on a regular schedule. Anything she finds should be documented through photos, videos, etc., and the person in charge of fixing this hazard should be instructed to fix it by a set time and date.

3. Training should be given to all hospital staff at all levels about the dangers of slip and fall accidents and the risks and hazards. This includes having written housekeeping procedures that require all employees (including nurses on the floor and other medical personnel, not just staff) to immediately report these hazards, like a spill, and to get a prompt response by housekeeping or facilities departments so the hazard can be removed as soon as possible.

Different Legal Avenues for Hospital Accident Claims

If someone is injured in a slip and fall accident at a Florida hospital, our premises liability laws protect the victim by allowing he or she to seek compensation for their injuries. However, which laws will apply will depend on the status of the victim.

In any slip and fall case, the victim must show that hospital was negligent. As explained in Westchester Exxon v. Valdes, 524 So.2d 452, 454 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988), a victim has to prove with admissible evidence the following factors:

(1) a duty to the plaintiff;
(2) the defendant’s breach of that duty;
(3) injury to the plaintiff arising from the defendant’s breach; and
(4) damage caused by the injury to the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

For a visitor or patient that is hurt in a fall at a hospital, their negligence claim against the hospital is prosecuted like any other Florida premises liability claim. Meaning, if a settlement cannot be reached, then the victim can file a civil lawsuit to force the hospital to take responsibility for its negligence and compensate the victim for his or her injuries (like pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses).

However, if the victim was working on the job when they fell on the hospital’s property, then they may have to seek justice in another forum if they can’t settle their case. Here, Florida workers ‘compensation laws exist to protect those hurt on the job.

An entirely different procedure is involved here. Claims for damages are presented differently, and determinations are made in accordance with the Workers’ Compensation System.

While there may be no difference in how a patient or visitor and a nurse or staff member can get hurt in a slip and fall accident, where the non-employee and the employee fall on spilled coffee in a hallway, there are certainly differences in the way that their claims are processed and adjudicated.  Employees are required to file a workers’ compensation claim and follow administrative avenues to settle any disputes; non-employees proceed by filing a claim with the hospital’s insurance carrier and use the standard civil route in the event of a dispute (by filing a lawsuit).

Another complication:  what if the worker had clocked out and was leaving to go home when they fell?  For employees, it will be important to determine if they were “on the job” at the time of their accident.

If the victim was not legally “at work,” then their case may proceed as any other civil case (where damages may not be confined to the Workers’ Compensation System framework).

Do You Have a Slip and Fall Accident Damages Claim Against a Florida Hospital?

If you have been the victim of a slip and fall accident in a South Florida hospital, then you may want to investigate your legal remedies with an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer. The hospital may be legally obligated to cover the damages that have resulted from that accident, including your lost wages from not being able to work, as well as your medical costs, rehab expenses, and more.

This is especially true if you can find evidence that the hospital failed to follow an OSHA regulation, like those listed above, or if the hospital was not complying with its own internal safety protocols.

A good piece of advice if you have been harmed by a slip and fall at a hospital, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.

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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.

 

 

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