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News: While on the way to see her supervisor, a hospital employee slipped and fell on a recently mopped floor. She alleged she herniated a disc in the fall and became partially paralyzed. She prevailed in a jury trial and was awarded $4.5 million in damages.
Background: The plaintiff worked as a nurse, treating and evaluating homebound hospice patients for a company that rented space from a hospital. She had ventured from the patient area to drop off paperwork, see her supervisor, and perform other work-related nursing duties. A large area of the floor recently had been mopped, including the hallway between the area known as the activity room and the ladies’ restroom. Passing through that area, the plaintiff slipped in water on the hallway floor.
As a result of the slip and fall, the plaintiff maintained that she sustained thoracic disc herniation, which depressed her spinal cord, leading to partial paralysis. Because of the paralysis, the plaintiff has to cauterize herself at least four times a day, given that she has no sensation in her vagina. Plaintiff also claimed that she suffers from chronic yeast infections as a result of the antibiotics she has to take, has trouble defecating, and developed complex regional pain syndrome, which causes burning in the chest area. She has to walk with a cane most of the time.
The plaintiff alleged the floor was covered in white linoleum with a high-gloss shine. Coupled with the fluorescent lighting in the area, she said it made it difficult for her to see the water. Furthermore, there were no warning signs posted. According to the plaintiff, those conditions caused her to slip and fall.
The defendant claimed the plaintiff’s injuries were merely a continuation and worsening of injuries that she received in prior accidents. The jury awarded a verdict in the amount of $4.5 million. However, the plaintiff was found to be 40% negligent, which reduced her award to $2.7 million.
What this means to you: Slips and falls are not limited to patients. Hospitals, like other businesses, should offer their patients, employees, and visitors a safe workplace.
"The housekeeping staff in this instance, clearly had the responsibility to keep the floor clean; however, they must do so without causing harm. At a minimum, the placement of a wet floor’ sign is generally considered necessary," says Ellen L. Barton, JD, CPCU, a Phoenix, MD-based risk management consultant.
"While the jury found some part of the fault on the employee, it also found that the hospital was negligent. This not only begs questions of any pre-existing conditions the nurse might have had, but also covers issues such as what type of footwear was she wearing, was she holding anything that would have prevented her from seeing the floor, and did she wear corrective lens and did she have them on?
"Given the fact that hospitals operate on a 24-hour/seven-day-a-week basis, one wonders if, in this instance, the housekeeping staff were following the standard operating procedure for cleaning the floors. Conversely, if the staff were in compliance with the time standards, it appears that prescribed precautionary steps might not have been taken. In addition, was the flooring adequately safe? The plaintiff’s testimony, it appears the white floor plus no signs eliminated the possibility of a plaintiff having last clear chance to avoid the accident," states Barton.
• Tamara L. Grosso v. Tenet Healthsystem Hospitals Inc., d/b/a Hollywood Medical Center, f/n/a NME Hospitals Inc. Broward County (FL) Circuit Court, Case No. 97-08554 12.