Last Update: 1/3/18
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; there are dozens of health-care facilities offering hospital-level medical care here.
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.
However, unfortunately, hospitals are not immune to having a slip and fall occur on their premises. Accidents can happen in hospitals every day due to foreign substances on the floor, poor lighting, loose handrails, and other issues caused by the hospital’s negligence.
Slip and Falls on Hospital Premises
Should you have to visit any of these medical facilities you may expect to see clean, sterile, well-lit environments with alert, competent staff and service workers.
However, hospitals are enterprises run by corporations overseen by boards of directors and a management and maintenance staff, just like many other business locations.
Sadly, the reality is that mistakes, like poor or improper maintenance, are made in these facilities just as they are in schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping malls. In fact, some of these mistakes have caused slip and fall and trip and fall injuries as well as other common premises liability related accidents (like elevator accidents or injuries caused by negligent security).
Who Are The Most Common Victims Of Hospital Slip and Falls?
Often times, the slip and fall victim is an employee of the hospital. For example, a lab tech, a nurse, or a doctor may lose their footing in the course of doing their job and fall, sustaining serious injuries.
However, the most common slip and fall victims at a hospital are patients, those who may be vulnerable to falls due to their ill health or recovery process, as well as loved ones visiting patients, and third party service providers (delivery men, gift store employees, cafeteria staff, etc.).
What Are The Causes Of Most Hospital Slip and Fall Accidents?
Hospital slip and falls can be caused by all sorts of conditions, 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 foreign substance or 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?
In order for a victim to prove that the hospital caused their slip and fall, the victim must 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 physical evidence and testimony. 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 and 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 testimony can be very helpful for an accident victim to prevail with their claim, especially because it can diminish a hospital’s defense claims such as comparative fault. If a hospital can prove comparative fault, then a victim may be limited in the amount of compensation he or she may be able to recover from the hospital (for example, if it is determined that the victim was 80% at fault for the accident, and the victim has $100,000.00 in damages, then the victim can only recover $20,000.00 from the hospital.)
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.
What Types of Compensation Can a 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:
- Loss of earnings (wages)
- Medical bills
- Costs for future medical care
- Loss of future earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
How dangerous and vulnerable are Florida hospitals to slip and fall accidents?
Studies have been conducted 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 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:
- Slip and fall injuries in hospitals are the most frequently reported adverse event among adults in the inpatient setting.If you were injured in a hospital, there is a high chance that it was as a result of 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.
- 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:
- 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.
(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.
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.
What Can Be Done To Prevent Slip and Fall Accidents in Florida Hospitals?
What can be done to keep people safe from a fall while on the premises of a Florida health care facility?
From OSHA comes regulations like the following, which are federal laws the hospitals are required to obey:
- 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).
From the CDC comes the following suggestions:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
Are There Different Legal Avenues For Pursuing A Hospital Accident Claim?
If someone is injured in a slip and fall accident at a Florida hospital, Florida’s premises liability laws protect the victim by allowing him or her 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 prove the hospital was negligent and recover his or her damages.
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. Claims for damages are presented differently in these cases, and determinations are made in accordance with the Workers’ Compensation System.
While there may be no difference in how a non-employee and the employee can get hurt in a slip and fall accident, 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, while 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).
There may be complications that change whether or not a case will be handled by the civil courts or worker’s compensation. For example, 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 Claim Against a Florida Hospital?
If you have been the victim of a slip and fall accident in a South Florida hospital, then you should pursue your premises liability claim, just like you would against any other business location. Just like other business owners, hospitals may be legally obligated to compensate victims for their injuries, including their lost wages from not being able to work, their medical costs, rehab expenses, as well as other economic and non-economic damages.
This is especially true if the victim can find evidence that the hospital failed to follow an OSHA regulation, like those listed above, or if the hospital did not comply 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 speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about 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.
- Slip/Trip and Falls in Florida
- What is Pain and Suffering under Florida Law?
- How To Survive A Summary Judgment Hearing Related To Your Slip And Fall Claim
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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