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Liability for a Fall Due to Sudden Loss of Consciousness

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Liability for a Fall Due to Sudden Loss of Consciousness

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Note this man is in a chair with arms to protect him from a fall

Note this man is in a chair with arms to protect him from a fall

Is there liability when a patient has a sudden loss of consciousness? Patients may suddenly lose consciousness for a variety of reasons. Either as an expert witness or at the request of an attorney looking for an expert, we have worked on several cases involving patients who fainted after blood was withdrawn. In one case, a young girl fell face forward off a stretcher. In a second, a patient injured his back as he slumped off of a chair.

Paralysis after a blood donation

A tragic outcome occurred to a young man who donated blood. The nurse asked him if he was dizzy or felt lightheaded. He denied feeling this way, stood up and started walking out of the facility. He passed out and hit his neck on the way down and had a high cervical fracture. Although this was a high damages case, the standard of care was followed and thus there was no viable claim. People who work in phlebotomy centers should be aware of the risk for falls. A patient who donate blood, for example, are lying flat. The person who is drawing the blood is responsible for the safety of the patient, to assess the patient before, during, and after for fainting.

Certainly, the patient should be in a safe environment, in a seat, in a full chair. If the patient has a fainting history, he or she should be lying down. But some people don’t come and say “I’m a fainter”, even if the nurse asks them. The nurse needs to be sure that the patient is safe from a potential fall. It is unsafe for the patient to sit on a stool or at the edge of the table. If she faints, surely there’s an increased risk of her falling off the chair or off the table. But if she is in a protected position and faints, she is less likely to get hurt. That prevents the injuries that can occur from a fall, such as fractures and hematomas.

Causes of sudden loss of consciousness

Low blood sugar may cause a fall

Low blood sugar may cause a fall

A patient may fall during a transient ischemic attack (sudden episode of loss of consciousness) or as a result of being dehydrated or having heat stroke. A patient may also fall because of a stroke, heart attack, or seizure. Falls may occur when blood sugars drop. If a patient skips a meal or is on a long acting medication for diabetes management and doesn’t eat at regular intervals, he or she can succumb very easily to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia can cause changes in levels of consciousness where the person can move from a level of alertness to comatose very quickly if he does not receive glucose given either by mouth or intravenously. The hypoglycemic patient may have a seizure.

Epileptics may fall. In many states, epilepsy is a condition that has to be reported to the motor vehicle division because of the risk for seizing. As a result of the seizure, a person may have a change in the level of consciousness or fall to the ground; that’s something that typically has no liability. It’s so hard to predict. However, there is a caveat to that. Consider a case involving an epileptic patient who had a seizure and fell. It was known that she had epilepsy and it was known that her drug levels of her antiseizure medication were too low. The physician group and the nurse practitioner group did not do anything to address the low drug level. The patient had a seizure and fell. That situation may have liability.

As legal nurse consultants, we help attorneys to establish whether liability is present. Call us to help with your next fall case.

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