Patients entering drug rehabilitation centers are especially vulnerable. By the time they commit to seeking help for their addictions, years of drug and alcohol abuse have often ravaged their bodies and minds. As fragile patients, they have a right to a safe environment, conducive to healing. Getting injured while at a treatment center is traumatizing and can even cause a relapse.
Unfortunately, hundreds of drug rehab injuries occur each year. Some are minor while others are more serious, with permanent effects. While drug rehab centers aren’t technically hospitals, they have a similar legal duty of care (obligation) to keep their patients safe from harm.
When drug rehab centers act negligently and their patients get hurt, the law permits the injured patients to seek compensation for their damages. Damages can include medical bills required to treat the injury; out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, etc.; lost wages; and pain and suffering (emotional distress).
Common drug rehab injuries include:
Slip and falls
Many common areas in rehabilitation centers have tiled or linoleum flooring. It’s much easier to keep this flooring sanitized than carpeting. Nightly deodorizing and disinfecting with chemicals can make floor surfaces very slippery. Because of the floor’s hardness, injuries from slip and falls can result in serious sprains, fractures, and head injuries.
Staff assaults on patients
Many drug rehab centers employ physically strong male staff members. Their purpose is to contain violent patients who try to harm other patients, staff members, or themselves. These men sometimes overreact to seemingly out-of-control patients by violently subduing them. They choke patients until they’re unconscious, apply pressure around the patient’s torso enough to break a patient’s ribs, and twist a patient’s wrist hard enough to tear the tendons or fracture the bones.
Patients in drug rehab facilities are at various stages of regaining their health. While most patients are friendly, some are combative and take their frustrations out on staff members and other patients. While staff members have training to mediate patient disputes, there are times when staff members are complacent or distracted. It only takes a moment for a heated argument between patients to escalate into a physical altercation, resulting in serious injuries.
Infections from unsanitary conditions and disease
Addictions come in many forms and at various levels. Some patients seek rehabilitation for addiction to alcohol. Some have addictions to methamphetamines. Others get hooked on opiates such as prescription drugs or codeine, morphine, and heroin. Others seek help for addictions to benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, and Halcion.
To ingest narcotics some patients use needles, often contracting Hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases. When a rehab center doesn’t properly screen and treat infected patients, they can inadvertently transfer these infectious diseases to other patients. Poor sanitation practices can cause sickness and diseases to run rampant.
Some rehab patients have self-destructive tendencies. When doctors, psychologists and counselors don’t properly identify and treat these patients, left to their own devices they can harm themselves and even commit suicide.
Exacerbated withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms vary. They can include delirium tremens (the DTs), nausea and vomiting, painful muscle contractions, and depression from opiates and benzoids. In extreme cases, patients can die. Personnel must monitor patients for withdrawal symptoms and give them the medication needed to minimize their symptoms. If not, they can suffer excruciating pain and discomfort.
The Law and Drug Rehabilitation Centers
Inpatient rehab centers have a strict legal duty of care (obligation) to protect patients from unnecessary harm. Because of the fragility of most patients, the center has a high duty to ensure safety. Rehab centers must remain ever-vigilant to ensure each patient gets the right treatment, without the possibility of injury.
Treatment centers must do everything reasonably possible to make the environment safe from dangerous conditions. Anything else may result in undue harm to the patients. This doesn’t mean every dangerous condition and every harm, but foreseeable and preventable dangerous conditions.
Example: Wrongful Death
A rehab center admitted a young woman who was a heroin addict and also a diabetic. During the admitting process, the woman’s parents made clear to the admitting nurse their daughter had diabetes. During her first night at the rehab center, the woman had an increased heart rate, palpitations, sweating, and dizziness. The symptoms worsened, and she became confused.
A staff member realized she was going into a diabetic coma. The center’s on-call doctor instructed the nurse to inject the patient with insulin. Unfortunately, the center didn’t have any insulin in stock. Shortly thereafter, the patient died.
The patients’ family sued the inpatient rehab center for wrongful death. The suit alleged the center breached (violated) its legal duty of care (obligation). The suit went on to say the rehab center admitted the young woman knowing she was diabetic. The rehab center should have had sufficient insulin to treat their daughter.
The court agreed with the woman’s family, saying the rehab center knew, or should have known insulin was necessary to treat the diabetic patient. By failing to stock insulin, the rehab center breached its legal duty of care. The court awarded the young woman’s family $2.8 million in damages.
Example: Assaultive Staff
A young man went to a rehab center for his addiction to alcohol. One morning, he refused to leave his room to attend a group therapy session. A staff member went into the patient’s room to explain it was important to attend the session. This staff member had a nickname around the rehab center: the enforcer. He was more than 6 feet tall and very strong.
During training, administration instructed the staffer to use only that amount of force necessary to protect a patient from harming himself or others. The young patient was 5′ 7″ tall and weighed 140 lbs. Witnesses said the patient was verbally abusive to the enforcer but never showed any combative behavior. Instead, the young man simply sat on his bed and refused to leave his room.
The enforcer apparently took the young man’s verbal abuse personally. He grabbed the young man and dragged him from his room. When the young man tried to hold on to his bed frame, the enforcer forcefully hit down hard on the young man’s arm. The blow broke several bones in the patient’s arm.
The young man’s family filed an injury insurance claim against the rehab center’s insurance company, claiming they were negligent by not properly training the staff member who used excessive force. The family claimed the staff member’s conduct was a breach of the center’s duty of care to their son. When the insurance company denied the family’s demand for $400,000, the family hired a personal injury attorney with experience in rehab center negligence and filed a lawsuit.
During pretrial discovery (collecting all evidence from the opposing party), the patient’s attorney and the family learned for the first time the staff member had the nickname, the enforcer, because of his aggressive behavior toward patients.
Through a subpoena duces tecum (demand for documents) of the rehab center’s records, the family learned management disciplined the staffer on two previous occasions for using excessive force against patients. The attorney introduced her findings into evidence at the trial.
In its defense, the rehab center said it had previously warned the staff member not to ever again use inappropriate, excessive physical force against any patient. The center said the staff member understood and promised never again to use excessive force. Their attorney said administration’s warnings to the staff member, and the staff member’s agreement to never again use excessive force, was sufficient removal of the foreseeable harm.
The rehab center’s attorney also said the center did everything reasonably possible to protect the young man, and it couldn’t know, nor should it have known the staff member would assault him. Therefore, they insisted they weren’t negligent or liable for the young man’s damages.
The jury disagreed and decided in favor of the young man. In its verdict, the jury found a foreseeable harm existed because the rehab center knew the staff member had a tendency toward violence against patients. In spite of that knowledge, the center failed to remove the harm. The center’s warnings to the enforcer against violence and his promise not to do it again wasn’t a sufficient removal of the danger. The jury awarded the young man $500,000 dollars in damages.
Proving Rehab Center Negligence
If you or a loved one suffered a drug rehab injury, it’s up to you to gather sufficient evidence to prove the center breached its duty of care by an act of negligence. The difficulty with gathering evidence of negligence lies in the way drug rehabilitation centers operate.
Drug rehab centers aren’t like supermarkets or apartment complexes where you normally have the time and opportunity to record the events surrounding your injury. Inpatient rehab centers are tightly controlled environments. If you’re hurt, it’s likely the staff will take care of your injury quickly and fix or eliminate the cause of the injury.
If you sustain a drug rehab injury, it’s advisable to retain a personal injury attorney immediately. Your attorney can:
- Negotiate with the rehab center’s insurance company
- Secure a court order enjoining the center from erasing surveillance footage
- Take depositions (recorded statements) of staff members under oath who may have knowledge of the injury’s cause
- Subpoena the rehab center’s records, including office memoranda between staff members about dangerous conditions
- Secure a court order permitting your attorney access inside the center to photograph or video the dangerous condition
- File a formal lawsuit against the rehab center
Example: Wrong Medication
While at a drug rehab center you got the wrong medication. The medication caused a severe allergic reaction, resulting in your having to go to a local hospital for treatment. Now you have compounded damages. When you entered the drug rehab center you were already ill from your addiction. The wrong medication made your disease worse, and caused a major setback in your recovery. Now you have to deal with the addiction plus the pain and discomfort associated with the allergic reaction.
Your attorney can seek damages to include reimbursement of the fees already paid to the rehab center, costs of the medications and hospital bills, the lost wages you’ll incur while having to complete your medical treatment, plus the additional time needed for recovery from the addiction. Finally, you’re entitled to compensation for the pain and suffering you had to endure because of the rehab center’s negligence.
Again, if you’re hurt while in rehab of any kind, meet with an attorney as soon as possible. You almost certainly can’t handle the case on your own.
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