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Arizona Supreme Court: Hospitals Liable for Mistreatment of Vulnerable Adults

There are few things as hard as seeing a parent or other beloved older adult grow infirm with age. Even people who once led healthy, active lives can be struck by conditions that render them unable to attend to some of their most basic needs.

Watching a loved one struggle with dementia, illness, or physical disability is never easy. In many cases, the families of these vulnerable adults put their faith in the doctors, nurses and other staff members at their local hospital. They hope that these professionals will recognize their loved one’s vulnerable state and provide compassionate and thorough care.

Unfortunately, though, this isn’t always the case. The abuse, neglect, and mistreatment of older adults is a serious problem in Arizona. Thankfully, a recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court has opened up new opportunities for legal recourse when a vulnerable adult is mistreated in a hospital setting.

Case Focused on Definition of “Care Provider”

The court’s ruling addressed two cases that were brought by families whose loved ones died, allegedly as a result of hospital care that the families said violated the standards of Arizona’s Adult Protective Services Act. In essence, that law says that care providers can be held liable in civil court if their neglect, abuse, or exploitation injures or endangers the life of a vulnerable adult.

The hospitals objected, arguing that the Adult Protective Services Act didn’t apply to them. They argued that the definition of the term “care provider” was intended to be limited to nursing homes and other similar institutions. Hospitals, they said, are “treatment providers” and therefore should only be held liable under the laws governing medical malpractice cases.

The court ultimately ruled that the hospitals’ distinction was meaningless. It noted that the definition of “providing care” includes acts such as supervision, responsibility, and attention to well-being and safety. These are all things that hospitals clearly do. Further, the court noted that a vulnerable adult can, for example, get bedsores from not being turned regardless of whether he or she is staying in a hospital or nursing home. What matters is not the location, but rather the neglectful care.

Adult Protective Services Act Allows for Expanded Recovery Options

Being held liable under the Adult Protective Services Act could potentially expose hospitals to greater financial responsibility when a vulnerable adult dies. Under traditional Arizona negligence laws—which govern medical malpractice lawsuits—the survivors of someone who is killed cannot recover for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased person before he or she passed away. However, when the claim is brought under the Adult Protective Services Act, that claim survives a vulnerable adult’s death. As a result, the claim more accurately addresses the wrongdoing that was committed.

Working with an Arizona Hospital Negligence Attorney

If your loved one was injured or killed as a result of negligent or abusive hospital care, you deserve the opportunity to seek justice. Because these cases can be very complex, it is best to seek help from an attorney who has extensive experience litigating hospital negligence cases.

It is important to recognize that Arizona state law limits the amount of time a person has to bring a lawsuit against a negligent medical provider. As such, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney as soon as is practical. The attorney will review your case and help you understand your options for moving forward.

Date: July 17, 2014

Medical Malpractice

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