Hospital Pays $3.5 Million for ‘Rampant’ Patient Falls

Posted December 20, 2012 in Jury Awards Personal Injury by

An empty hospital bed with tangled blankets


Patient injuries from falling out of bed are “rampant” in hospitals and nursing homes all over the country, according to a lawyer who recently won a $3.5 million verdict against a medical center on behalf of an 87-year-old patient.

Shirley Burrell was 81 when she went into the hospital for a hip arthroplasty. She fell out of bed, fracturing her hip, and then suffered a stroke, causing permanent disability.

“It happens in hospitals and nursing homes in every health system. It’s a chronic problem in every state nationwide. It’s rampant,” said Avery Waterman, who represented Burrell and other patients who have fallen at other hospitals.

Waterman argued that the hospital, Riverside Regional Medical Center in Virginia, failed to use basic measures to prevent falls to high risk patients like Burrell, such as putting her closer to the nurse’s station, equipping her with a bed alarm, using “soft” restraints or providing a sitter to look out for her.

“For decades, Riverside was aware of its significant problem with in-patient falls, which historically occur more than every other day,” the lawsuit alleged.

At trial, Waterman argued that the fall could have been prevented with the simple flip of a switch if nurses had turned on the bed alarm, but they were reluctant to activate the alarm because it was sensitive to being set off by accident.

“Nurses don’t like being inconvenienced. Some false positives are a worthwhile inconvenience,” Waterman said.

The jury’s $3.5 million award to the 87-year-old Burrell sends a message to health care providers everywhere.

“It’s vindication that the elderly aren’t throwaways,” said Waterman said.

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