Lawsuit Over Hospital Bed Fall Involving High Risk Patient Results in $275K Settlement

A $275,000 settlement has been reached in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against a Vermont hospital by the widow of a man who died after failing out of his hospital bed, which was allegedly caused by the facility failing to take proper precautions given his high risk for falling. 

The complaint was filed in 2013 by Jean Prouty, the widow of Donald E. Prouty, Jr., who died at the age of 56, following a fall suffered at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. Although Prouty was identified as having a high risk for falling, the hospital failed to take proper measures to protect him, according to the lawsuit.

Prouty was admitted to the hospital in late August 2013, complaining of head and neck pain following a number of recent falls. He complained of dizziness, balance problems, hallucinations, memory loss and other cognitive problems, which most likely came from Hepatitis C, which he reportedly contracted from needles used for the inoculation of marines during the Vietnam War.

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Hospital staff determined Prouty to be a high risk and ordered that a pressure sensitive alarm be placed on his bed, and assigned personal assistants to be in the room when there were no visitors, to watch him and ensure he did not try to get out of bed.

On August 25, Prouty got out of his hospital bed alone to go to the restroom and fell on his way back, suffering multiple pelvis fractures. He was transferred to another hospital, where he died several days later.

The lawsuit filed by Jean Prouty alleged that there was no assistant in the room at the time of her husband’s fall, and that the sensor on his bed had been deactivated. The hospital’s nursing staff was accused of breaching the proper standards of medical care for a high fall risk patient.

According to a report by the Beaumont Enterprise, the hospital fall settlement was reached on January 5, and will require approval by a judge.

In 2012, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that hospital bed alarms were not as effective in preventing high risk patients from falling as hospitals believed.

Bed alarm systems involve a plastic pad with sensors that detect weight placed underneath elderly patients in hospital and nursing home beds. The alarms are designed to emit a sound when a patient gets out of bed. This both alerts the hospital staff and is intended to remind patients to wait for help getting out of bed, when elderly patients are often experiencing dizziness or weakness. The bed alarm systems cost approximately $400.

The 18-month long trial found an increase in alarm use among the patients who were provided education on use; however, this did not lead to a decrease in the rates of fall injuries at hospital and nursing units among these same patients.


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