West Virginia Hospital Lawsuit Filed Over Fatal Fall from Bed

A West Virginia wrongful death lawsuit has been filed over the death of an 83-year old woman who suffered serious injuries when she fell out of a hospital bed.

The medical malpractice lawsuit was filed on September 23 in Kanawha Circuit Court by Richard W. Hornick, whose mother, Mary, died approximately six months after she fell out of bed at Thomas Memorial Hospital. According to the West Virginia Record, the hospital bed lawsuit alleges that the fall was caused by the negligence of hospital staff, who failed to properly monitor Hornick and take other actions that could have avoided the serious injuries.

Mary E. Hornick was admitted to the hospital on December 8, 2007 with complaints of lethargy, speech difficulties and a possible cerebrovascular accident. Hornick fell out of the bed during her stay at the hospital, which her son says contributed.

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Hornick’s hospital bed fall resulted in severe bruising, a hematoma, and cuts to her head and arm, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that the fall either caused a new cerebrovascular accident or contributed to the one she was already suffering. The lawsuit also claims that Hornick met the hospital’s high-risk category requirements, which meant she should have been more closely monitored to prevent potential falls.

Mary Hornick died on May 5, 2008 at a nursing facility, six months after her stay in Thomas Memorial Hospital. Her death was determined to be due primarily to dementia, with cerebrovascular accident as a secondary cause.

The FDA has received 480 reports of deaths involving hospital beds since 1985. Most of those incidents dealt with the elderly, frail or confused patients. Besides falling, there are also risks of entrapment and strangulation due to the safety rails used to keep patients in bed.

Earlier this year, the FDA released guidance on hospital bed safety that warns the railings are the most dangerous parts of a hospital bed, despite being a safety feature. Six of seven “zones of entrapment” identified by the FDA dealt with the hospital bed railings. Besides entrapment, the greatest risk of falling from a hospital bed appears to be due to patients trying to get over the railing.

Since most hospital beds are motorized, there is also a risk of fire due to electrical shorts and proper maintenance. These risks can be minimized by regular inspection of power cords, keeping beds free from dust and lint, inspecting control panels for signs of liquid damage and keeping linens and clothes away from outlets and power sources.


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