Fall from Hospital bed results in fatal outcome

09 June 2023

Shoosmiths recently secured compensation at an out of court settlement meeting in in the case of an 81-year-old lady who fell from her hospital bed, sustaining a severe spinal cord injury which caused permanent paralysis, and ultimately led to her death.
Fall from Hospital bed results in fatal outcome

Before her retirement, the deceased was a research scientist in physiology at a top university. Prior to her hospital admission, she had been well and active, and she was also the primary carer for her husband who was unwell with dementia.

The deceased fell down the stairs at home and was admitted to hospital. She was initially treated in A&E and although she had suffered a number of injuries and fractures, these were not life changing and she would have made a good recovery within a few months. However, because she suffered an injury to her head when she fell at home, the deceased was confused on admission to A&E; she had been trying to climb out of bed because she did not know where she was. She was transferred to the major trauma ward after an epidural was inserted, but there was a lack of communication between A&E and the ward about her confusion and attempts to get out of bed.

She was placed in an individual side room without continuous observations or one to one care. Sadly, within a relatively short space of time after arriving on the ward, she fell out of her hospital bed sustaining a cut to her forehead and a traumatic injury to her spinal cord. As a result of the spinal cord injury, she was left paralysed and she was eventually discharged to a nursing home. She required continuous care until her death from bronchopneumonia almost two years later, a recognised complication in people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

Shoosmiths acted on behalf of the estate in claiming compensation from the NHS trust on behalf of the deceased and her estate for her injuries and subsequent death. The expert evidence we obtained confirmed that if the deceased had not suffered the fall in hospital and the resulting spinal cord injury, she would have had an above average life expectancy and probably would have survived a further eight to ten years.

The NHS trust admitted that the spinal cord injury was caused by the fall in hospital but denied that the fall was due to any negligence in the deceased’s care. The case was fully contested but was ultimately settled out of court for a sum of compensation, which included damages for the spinal cord injury, the care and assistance that the deceased required until her death, funeral expenses, and additional inheritance tax payable by the deceased as a consequence of her early death.

Shoosmiths' Pam Westwood fought to pursue the case which was defended until the settlement meeting. She comments:

“There were basic errors in the care provided to the deceased in this case which were clear upon consideration of her medical records and even more so, on receipt of our expert medical evidence. It was clearly documented that she had suffered severe injuries on admission, and that she was very confused about where she was and what had happened to her. She thought she was visiting her husband and was trying to get up to make him a cup of tea. Despite this, the nursing staff decided to place her in an individual side room on the ward where she could not be easily observed, and they failed to take any other reasonable steps to minimise the risk of her suffering a fall.

Since the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 came into force, there has not been any case law in England and Wales which specifically deals with claims for additional inheritance tax payable by an estate due to the injured person’s early death from medical negligence. Whilst the hospital trust did not make any admissions in respect of the deceased’s life expectancy and the claim for additional inheritance tax, it was clear that the compensation achieved took this into account.

Whist it is disappointing that the hospital trust continued to defend the case, which dragged things on. We persevered and I am glad that we managed to achieve a great settlement for our clients. The deceased’s family were delighted with the outcome”.

Pam’s clients said;

“Many thanks and appreciation of all your hard and detailed work. When you took over the case, there was a real sense of the case being driven forward with care, effort and concern. We are grateful for that!”



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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