Claims for compensation for falls in hospitals account for more claims against the NHS than any other patient safety incident. According to the National Reporting and Learning System, more than 200,000 falls in hospitals are recorded each year. Due to the frailty of patients most likely to experience hospital falls, such accidents often result in broken bones, subdural haematomas, an increased length of stay in hospital, and a higher likelihood of a patient being discharged to residential or nursing home care.
Not all hospital falls result in injuries. However, when injuries are sustained due to avoidable hospital falls, it may be possible to claim compensation for falls in hospitals from the negligent NHS Trust or private medical facility. The article explains more about the scenarios in which avoidable falls in hospitals occur but, as no two claims for hospital fall injuries are identical, it is in your best interests to discuss your falling accident in hospital with a personal injury solicitor as soon as possible.
Medical Negligence Claims for Hospital Fall Injuries
Claims for hospital fall injuries can fall into three categories – medical negligence, public liability and employer liability. Medical negligence claims for hospital fall injuries are the most common category of claim. Hundreds of injury claims for compensation for falls in hospitals are received each year by the NHS Litigation Authority – the authority responsible for managing clinical and non-clinical claims against the NHS. These claims for hospital fall injuries include:
- Claims for patient falls from hospital beds.
- Claims for patient hospital falls from trolleys.
- Claims for patients falls in hospital bathrooms.
- Claims for patient falls from a toilet or commode.
Many of these falls in hospitals are avoidable. They can be attributed to a lack of nursing care, the failure to conduct or follow a risk assessment, the failure of the hospital to implement a falls prevention policy or environmental factors such as wet floors, loose carpets or cables left across the floor. Medical professionals, NHS Trusts and private medical facilities have a duty to provide a certain standard of care. When this duty of care falls below an acceptable level, and you or a loved one sustain an injury as a result, you should be eligible to claim compensation for a falling accident in hospital.
Representing a Patient Unable to Represent Themselves
When an injury is sustained in a falling accident in hospital by your child, or by a family member with reduced mental capacity, it will be necessary to make compensation claims for hospital fall injuries on their behalf. This is not a complicated process inasmuch as your solicitor will guide you through the process of becoming a “litigation friend” in order to represent your child or other family member, but you will be required to make decisions on the claimant´s behalf.
Making decisions on another´s behalf is not always straightforward. Although the NHS Trust or private medical facility will conduct an investigation into how the falling accident in hospital occurred – and often your solicitor will conduct one as well – the majority of claims for compensation for falls in hospitals are complicated by the fact that the falls are not witnessed. Establishing negligence in claims for hospital fall injuries based on the recollections of a child or a family member with a reduced mental capacity can sometimes be difficult.
Other dissimilarities between making a claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital on your own behalf, and representing a patient unable to represent themselves, include:
- The length of time in which you have to make a claim. The three years Statute of Limitations does not apply to claims for hospital fall injuries made on behalf of a child or family member unable to represent themselves.
- The extended period it may take for the claim to be settled. Because the claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital is being made through a decision-making third party, communications can flow a little slower.
- The approval of the settlement. Settlements of injury compensation for falls in hospitals made on behalf of a third party have to be approved by a judge in order to ensure that they reflect a fair outcome for the claimant.
Your solicitor will be able to answer any questions you may have about representing a patient unable to represent themselves or making medical negligence claims for hospital fall injuries.
Public and Employer Liability for Hospital Falls
It is not only inpatients that suffer injuries due to avoidable hospital falls. Families and friends, visitors to outpatient departments and hospital employees are also at risk of an injury if hazards exist on hospital property. Injuries from falling accidents in hospitals sustained by visitors and employees can be equally as serious as those sustained by patients – although they are less likely to be attributable to medical negligence and more probably due to public liability or employer negligence.
Depending on the type of medical facility, visitor and employee falls in hospitals account for up to 15% of total hospital falls. These accidents can occur in a variety of scenarios and include:
- Slips and falls in hospital canteens.
- Trips and falls in hospital car parks.
- Slip and fall accidents in hospital corridors.
- Falls in other areas of a hospital´s grounds.
- Falls in therapy or hospital day services departments.
If you are a visitor to or an employee of a hospital – either a medical professional, an administrator or a services provider – and you are injured in a hospital fall, you may be able to claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital if it can be established that the NHS Trust or private medical facility failed to provide you with a safe environment to visit or to work in. Again, claims for hospital fall injuries made on the grounds of public or employer liability are not necessarily straightforward.
Although the NHS Litigation Authority settles most hospital negligence claims without the need for court action, they are inclined to defend many claims for slips, trips and falls in hospitals. In addition to using the “failure to take reasonable care” argument, a claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital can also be contested on the grounds that the claimant “should have known” there was a risk of injury – i.e. when walking across an icy car park during particularly cold weather.
How Contributory Negligence can affect Settlements of Compensation for Falling in Hospital
Rarely is it the case that claimants contribute to the cause of a falling accident in hospital – although hospital authorities might contest a claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital on the grounds that the claimant could have avoided an injury had they taken “reasonable care”. The only likely scenario in which a claimant´s contributory negligence will affect a settlement of compensation for falling in hospital is if they have failed to seek professional medical attention in a timely manner.
It is often the case that soft tissue injuries and head injuries from slips, trips and falls in hospital do not manifest for a number of days. Even the pain from a fractured or broken bone can be masked by the production of adrenalin. When such injuries do manifest, you may underestimate the extent of their injury and decide that medical attention is unnecessary. This can be a mistake if the injury deteriorates or the injury takes longer to heal than it normally would.
If a significant time difference exists between an accident occurring and the seeking of medical attention, it could be argued that the injury was exacerbated due to your own lack of care, or that the injury was not caused by the hospital´s negligence but by some other event. These scenarios highlight the importance of seeking prompt medical attention – not only for the good of your health, but to avoid the reduction of a settlement of compensation for falling in hospital.
How Much Compensation for Falls in Hospitals?
How much injury compensation for falls in hospitals you, or the person on whose behalf you are making a claim, might be entitled to depends on four primary factors:
- The level of physical injury that was sustained.
- The level of emotional trauma that was experienced.
- The non-financial consequences of the injury.
- The financial implications of the falling accident in hospital.
The first two factors will be established by your medical records. The consequences of the injury – in terms of any loss of amenity or deterioration in your quality of life – will be determined by your solicitor with regard to your current personal situation, while the financial implications of the falling accident in hospital will be assessed by a forensic accountant.
It was mentioned at the beginning of this article that no two claims for hospital fall injuries are identical, and this is because of the four primary factors affecting different people in different ways. Furthermore, settlements of compensation for falls in hospitals can be adjusted not only for contributory negligence, but also with regard to a person´s age, lifestyle and – in certain circumstances – their gender. Consequently, one patient making a claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital may have a very different outcome from another patient who sustained a similar injury in similar circumstances.
Seek Legal Advice after a Falling Accident in Hospital
With there being so many possible scenarios relating to how falls in hospitals occur, and a number of potential outcomes, it is always in your best interest to seek legal advice about making a claim for an injury caused by a fall in hospital. Ideally you should seek legal advice before a complaint is made to the hospital about your accident. With help from a solicitor, the letter of complaint can be compiled in such a way that it mirrors the evidence that will be used to support a claim for a falling accident in hospital.