Negligent alcohol and drug rehab centers can cause serious injuries. Here’s how to get the compensation you or your loved one deserve.
Drug abuse and addiction are a major health care problem.
In the United States, more than 14,500 residential rehab facilities provide counseling, behavioral therapy, case management, medication, and family support to persons with drug or alcohol addictions.¹
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. In fact, nearly one out of four persons with substance abuse disorders also have a mental illness.²
Recovering addicts are fragile patients, who have a right to heal in a physically and emotionally safe environment. When patients are injured by rehab facility negligence or malpractice, the long-term effects can be catastrophic.
Abuse and Injury in Drug Rehab Centers
Just like hospitals and nursing homes, patients in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers can be abused, neglected, or mistreated by physicians, nurses and staff. Injured rehab patients may relapse into substance abuse or overdose while in rehab or shortly after release.
Slip and falls: Patients and visitors in rehab centers can suffer broken bones, head injuries, or joint injuries after a slip, trip, and fall on uneven flooring, unmarked steps, torn carpeting, loose scatter rugs or icy walkways around the facility.
Exacerbated withdrawal symptoms: Untreated withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can cause delirium tremens (the DTs), nausea, vomiting, painful muscle contractions, and severe depression. In extreme cases, patients can die.
Physical abuse: Patients in crisis can be injured by cruel or angry staff members who strike, choke, slap, or dislocate shoulders trying to subdue the agitated patient. Rehab patients may also be injured by inappropriate sedation, as well as straps, belts, or other physical restraints.
Mental abuse: Rehab patient care standards don’t include shaming, humiliation, blaming, intimidation, or ignoring a patient’s emotional and physical needs.
Sexual abuse: Patients should not be forced to undress in front of others or to hear suggestive or sexually explicit comments. Inappropriate physical touching, coerced sex, and rape by staff or other patients are inexcusable.
Patient-on-patient assaults: Patients in drug rehab facilities are at various stages of regaining their health. Some patients are combative and take their frustrations out on staff members and other patients.
Staff members have an obligation to anticipate the behavior of violent patients and take necessary steps to prevent the patient from physically assaulting another rehab resident.
Infections and disease: Substance abusers have a much higher rate of infectious diseases than the general population. Because of drug-related habits and generally poorer nutrition and health, many patients coming to rehab suffer from tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, MRSA, 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.
Self-destructive behavior: Depression and low self-worth go hand-in-hand with substance abuse disorders. More than a third of all addicts also struggle with mental illness. When rehab doctors, counselors, and staff don’t properly identify and treat these patients, they can harm themselves and even commit suicide.
Medical malpractice: Rehab patients deserve the highest standards of medical care to manage withdrawal symptoms, poor nutrition status, and to correctly identify and treat existing conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, mental illness, and more.
Rehabilitation Center Legal Obligations
While rehabilitation centers aren’t technically hospitals, they have a similar duty of care, meaning obligation, to keep patients safe from harm. Facilities designed to help individuals recover from substance abuse disorders must remain vigilant to ensure each patient gets the right treatment, without the possibility of injury.
When rehabilitation center employees or administrators are negligent, and that negligence leads to patient injuries, the rehab center is liable, meaning responsible for the patient’s damages.
Damages can include the cost of medical care and mental health treatment, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.
Because of the fragility of most patients, treatment centers must do everything reasonably possible to make the environment safe from dangerous conditions. This doesn’t mean every dangerous condition and every harm, but foreseeable and preventable dangerous conditions.
Example: Wrongful death in rehab
Dawn was a nineteen-year diabetic who was admitted to a drug rehab center for treatment of her heroin addiction. During the admitting process, Dawn’s mother provided copies of her daughter’s prescription for insulin and reminded the nurse of her daughter’s Type 1 diabetes.
During her first night at the rehab center, Dawn developed an increased heart rate, nausea, and vomiting. The staff assumed her symptoms were related to narcotic withdrawal.
However, as the symptoms worsened, Dawn became unresponsive. A staff member realized she was going into a diabetic coma. Dawn’s blood sugar level had skyrocketed.
The center’s on-call doctor instructed the nurse to administer short-acting insulin. Unfortunately, the center didn’t have any insulin in stock. The admitting nurse had failed to place the appropriate drug orders.
They called 911 to take Dawn to the nearest hospital, but it was too late. Dawn died from a diabetic coma.
Dawn’s family sued the inpatient rehab center for wrongful death. The rehab center knew or should have known how to care for diabetic patients under their care. By failing to order insulin, the rehab center breached its legal duty of care. The court awarded Dawn’s family $2.8 million in damages.
Proving Rehab Center Responsibility
To prove a drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility is legally negligent, you’ll have to show:
- The rehab facility was obligated to care for you
- A dangerous condition existed at the rehab facility
- The facility knew or should have known the dangerous condition could result in harm to patients
- The rehab facility negligently failed to correct or remove the dangerous condition
- The facility’s negligence caused your injuries
You’ll be able to show how the facility was negligent by gathering good evidence.
Photographic evidence: Rehab centers don’t usually allow patients to have cell phones, computers, cameras or other electronic devices. Devices can be a source of stress, temptation, and take the patient’s focus away from recovery. Just as important, devices that record pictures or sound are banned because they may infringe on another patient’s privacy.
Pictures of filthy bathrooms, infested food storage, or illicit drugs on the premises can be compelling evidence of negligence. If you have visiting family or clergy, they may be able to get some pictures where you can’t go.
Keep a journal: Try to write down everything you remember about the circumstances leading to your injury. Make a note of the names of staff or other patients involved. Be sure to write down the date and time of every incident.
Witnesses statements: Other patients who were aware of the dangerous condition, or saw what happened may be willing to provide a written statement supporting your claim. At least ask them for their full names and home contact information.
Medical records: Your medical and mental health records before rehab will help establish the level of care you needed, and your injury treatment records will help link your new injuries or worsened condition to the negligence of the rehab facility.
However, to collect the most compelling evidence, you’ll need an attorney.
Example: Excessive force injures patient
Johnny was a thin and timid patient admitted 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 named Mitch went into Johnny’s room to explain it was important to attend the session.
Mitch had a nickname around the rehab center: everyone knew him as “the Enforcer.” The Enforcer was big, tall, and very strong.
When Mitch told Johnny to get to his therapy session, Johnny cursed him and refused to leave his room.
Facility staff was trained only to use force when necessary to protect a patient from harming himself or others. However, the Enforcer grabbed Johnny to drag him from the room.
When Johnny tried to hold on to his bed frame, the Enforcer forcefully hit down hard on Johnny’s arm, breaking the bones in two places.
Johnny’s injuries required surgical repair, and the vicious assault complicated his substance abuse treatment. His family moved him to another rehab facility for proper care.
Johnny’s family hired a personal injury attorney to seek compensation from the rehab facility for Johnny’s injuries, lost wages, and extreme emotional distress.
Johnny’s attorney went through legal channels to get important information. They learned that Mitch had been written up twice before for using excessive force against patients. Other staff called him the Enforcer because of his aggressive behavior toward patients.
At trial, Johnny’s attorney used the evidence to prove the rehab center should have known Mitch was a danger to the patients. By continuing to employ “the Enforcer” the rebab facility was negligent, and liable for Johnny’s damages.
The rehab center tried to argue that they had taken reasonable steps to protect patients by disciplining Mitch. The jury didn’t agree. They awarded Johnny $500,000 for his serious injuries and extreme emotional distress.
Why You Need an Attorney
Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers are tightly controlled environments with a high level of information security and confidentiality. That’s good for helping patients recovering from addiction, but makes it very difficult for patients trying to gather evidence from bad rehab facilities.
If you had relatively minor injuries, like a sprained wrist from a slip and fall, you could probably deal directly with the facility’s insurance company to get your bills paid.
Serious injuries are another story.
You have the right to compensation for serious injuries or wrongful death caused by a negligent rehab facility, but you’ll need expert legal help to get all the evidence you’ll need to win.
Your personal injury attorney can:
- Stop the facility from destroying important records (known as “spoliation of evidence”)
- Subpoena the rehab center’s records, including internal emails and memos between staff members about dangerous conditions
- Question staff members under oath who may know the injury’s cause
- Secure a court order permitting your attorney access inside the center to photograph or video the dangerous condition
- Uncover proof of prior health and safety violations at the rehab center
Armed with extensive evidence of the facility’s negligence, your attorney will have the leverage to negotiate with the facility’s insurance company on your behalf.
If the insurance company doesn’t agree to pay fair compensation for your injuries and pain and suffering, your attorney can file a lawsuit against the negligent alcohol or drug rehabilitation center.
Don’t worry about affording an attorney. Reputable attorneys offer a free initial consultation. Most personal injury attorneys accept clients on a contingency fee basis, meaning the attorney doesn’t get paid unless you do.
There’s no obligation. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
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