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If a healthcare facility discharges a patient who is still under the influence of anesthesia after a medical procedure without an emergency contact to bring the patient home and the patient walked out the facility and fell after tripping on the concrete and injured himself badly, can the patient sue the healthcare facility? If so, what kind of lawsuit can the patient file? Also, what is the liability of the healthcare facility?

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    Depends on countless details. What did the doctors know, what should they have known, did the patient sign any disclaimers, did the the patient demand to leave ...
    – o.m.
    Mar 31 at 13:58
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    The answer is possibly... That's why they typically use wheelchairs to get you to a vehicle, even if you are ambulatory. Voting to close as too vague. Apr 1 at 14:47
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    When I had my colonoscopy, they required me to provide contact info for the person picking me up. I'm not sure what would have happened if they didn't show up, I assume they would have found a place for me to rest until I was able to leave on my own (and charged me accordingly).
    – Barmar
    Apr 1 at 20:17

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can the patient sue the healthcare facility?

Anyone can sue. Whether they would win or not is another question.

If so, what kind of lawsuit can the patient file?

A lawsuit could present claims for medical malpractice against the discharging professional, claims for premature discharge of an unstablized patient under the emergency medical treatment act against the persons responsible under that act, a claim against the facility for having a negligent discharge policy, or a claim against the property owner of the facility for failure to maintain the sidewalks properly.

Incidentally, all of the claims except the EMTALA claim would arise entirely or primarily under state common law rules, rather than statutes.

Also, what is the liability of the healthcare facility?

A healthcare facility ordinarily isn't liable for medical malpractice of people who work there. But it could have liability on some grounds.

The issues presented are:

(1) Did someone engage in professional negligence by discharging the patient prematurely when a comparable medical professional who was exercising reasonable care would not have done so?

(2) If so, who? In all likelihood, it would be the medical professional who signed the discharge order and not the medical facility. Medical facilities do not generally have vicarious liability for the medical malpractice of people at the facility. Legally, they are closer to a landlord than an employer.

(3) Was the injury due in any part due to the comparative fault of the patient, who failed to act as a reasonable patient under the circumstances?

(4) Was the injury suffered a reasonably foreseeable consequence of a premature discharge?

(5) Did someone violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd(c), which compels Medicare-participating hospitals to provide emergency care to any individual, irrespective of an individual’s ability to pay and to stabilize the patient, prior to discharging the patient (if this was a Medicare-participating hospital)? This obligation might is imposed as a matter of statute on the facility rather on the health care professionals involved, per 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd(d), although both the facility and the physician involved can also be subject to civil fines from the government of up to $25,000 to $50,000 (depending upon the size of the hospital) for violating this law.

(6) Did the policies and procedures of the health care facility violate a reasonable standard of care that caused the injury, or was the premature discharge solely the result of the bad judgment of a medical professional? The health care facility isn't automatically responsible for a bad call by a professional working there, but if it had a policy of having janitors rather than medical professionals sign off on medical discharges, for example, it could have liability for having a negligent medical discharge policy.

(7) Did the property owner at the facility breach its legal duty to maintain its sidewalks properly which caused the injury?

(8) How should the damages suffered be monetized, if negligence and causation were present, and assuming that this was a case of carelessness and not an intentional scheme to cause injury to the patient (which the question doesn't suggest)? The damages which would be recoverable would be compensatory economic damages which would include components including lost wages, medical treatment costs, and non-economic "pain and suffering" damage arising from the new injury, as distinct from those damages that were already present in the original injury for which the patient needed medical care.

All of the issues presented would, in all likelihood, be resolved a jury at trial, rather than by a judge prior to trial or at trial, in a case where a jury trial was requested (which it almost always would be), on a case by case basis. In cases like these, the law sets forth broad general standards for imposing liability, but two different juries could reached opposite conclusions on any of the issues presented with exactly the same facts presented at trial, and each outcome would be upheld on appeal.

Relevant facts

Comments list some of the fact that could be relevant to resolving this issue:

What did the doctors know, what should they have known, did the patient sign any disclaimers, did the the patient demand to leave ...

they typically use wheelchairs to get you to a vehicle, even if you are ambulatory.

There are many, many other factors that could influence the outcome, and the issues presented aren't really comprehensive.

For example, if the anesthesiologist meant to say that the drugs wear off in 50 minutes but was misheard by the hospital scribe as saying 15 minutes, that would probably make the anesthesiologist responsible for not checking the way that those orders got transcribed, and might relieve a medical professional who signed off on a discharge after 20 minutes from liability, unless the patient was visibly not ready to be discharged.

I also don't raise some more complicated potential issues:

  • Did someone have governmental immunity?

  • Does someone who had liability for the original injury also have liability for this aggravation in the injury from medical treatment for that injury (e.g. an at fault driver in a car accident, or an employer for a work related injury)?

  • Did the patient insist on leaving in circumstances where the medical professional in charge of discharge recommended against doing so?

  • Did the patient have a mental illness or cognitive disability noted in their chart?

Of course, if this was actually part of an intentional scheme to cause injury to the patient, this would probably rise to the level of a criminal offense, and would also expand the scope of a damages remedy in a civil lawsuit to include punitive damages.

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