Avoid Liability for Injuries on the Premises
Concerns over huge malpractice awards and staggering insurance premiums may have distracted you from another liability issue that may not seem quite so urgent -- premises liability.
In order to hold your practice responsible in a premises liability lawsuit, the injured person generally needs to prove that your negligence led to the injury. To do that, the person must show that:
In these cases, individuals can sue for medical expenses, lost earnings, physical suffering, disability, disfigurement and emotional distress.
But don't overlook this risk. A total disability suit based on a fall or other accident at your medical practice can be just as financially devastating as a malpractice suit. As you are focusing on the condition of your medical equipment and instruments, pay attention to the condition of office floors, stairs, doors, windows and other items.
Liability for injury due to the physical condition of your office generally follows the same rules as any premise liability: You are responsible for providing duty of care to individuals invited to your premises to transact business.
This includes patients, which courts have interpreted to include individuals who come to medical practices for advice, treatment and to make appointments. It also includes people who accompany patients to appointments, medical supply sales reps, pharmaceutical reps, delivery personnel, mail carriers and garbage collectors.
You are responsible for keeping the premises in a condition that protects business visitors from dangers that you know about -- or should know about. Generally, however, liability concerns are reduced if patients enter areas clearly marked "Staff Only."
It's not just the condition of your office that can spark liability. In some cases, you may also have a responsibility to protect business visitors from accidental, negligent or intentional harmful acts by third parties, including other business visitors and trespassers, as well as employees who act beyond the scope of their professional duties.
For example, if your office location has been the site of previous criminal activity, you must take precautions to prevent future violations.
With that in mind, there are some steps you can take that can help avoid premises liability:
- Maintain premise liability insurance. Talk with your medical practice management professional about the amount needed.
- Clearly mark steps and stairs and provide secure, adequate handrails.
- Use only non-skid wax.
- Periodically check for damaged or slippery floor surfaces and sharp or abrasive surfaces, torn or frayed rugs, weak handrails and dangerous obstructions. Log, sign and date your findings.
- Mark off any dangers immediately, and replace, repair, or eliminate the danger as soon as possible.
- Make it a staff priority to help frail, disabled and elderly patients.
- Check the state of your restrooms frequently.
- Develop policies and procedures to protect patients from intoxicated, mentally ill and disruptive third parties.
- Clearly post the phone numbers for building security and local police and put them on speed dial.
- Make sure entrances, parking facilities and walking paths are well lit, free of obstacles and, if necessary, patrolled by security.
- Establish policies for keeping controlled substances secured so that you are less a target for drug seekers.
Most of these steps involve simple common sense. Depending on your circumstances, however, it may be worthwhile to get an expert to check your premises and advise you of potential risks. In the end, it could save you the hassle and expense of major litigation.