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November 20, 2022
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Can You Sue for Hospital-Acquired Infections

One out of every 31 hospital patients is fighting one or more hospital-acquired infections on any given day in the United States. Unsurprisingly, many patients want to find out, “Can you sue for hospital-acquired infections?” 

You can sue for hospital-acquired infections in Nevada, and your financial recovery can be substantial. HAIs can be severe and even fatal. They commonly result from hospital negligence or medical malpractice. If a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional or facility was negligent, you can file a lawsuit against the medical providers that contributed to causing your infection.

What Is a Hospital-Acquired Infection?

A hospital-acquired infection, also known as a healthcare-associated or nosocomial infection, is an infection you develop in a hospital environment and is not related to your original diagnosis or illness. You can acquire the infection in many different ways. You could get it during a quick hospital visit, outpatient procedure, or after days of exposure during a prolonged hospital stay.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis shows that hospital-acquired infections continued to rise in U.S. hospitals in 2021. According to the most recent CDC hospital survey that was conducted in 2015, there were about 687,000 hospital-acquired infections in U.S. acute care hospitals in that year. Approximately 72,000 patients with the infections died during hospitalizations.

Hospital-acquired infections can progress quickly and pose considerable health risks, particularly if not diagnosed and treated promptly. Sepsis, for instance, is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis lawyers warn that if the condition is allowed to progress into septic shock, internal bleeding, organ failure, and eventually death may occur. If you or a loved one contracted an infection that developed into sepsis, you can sue the hospital for getting sepsis.

Common Forms of Hospital-Acquired Infections

Hospital-acquired infections come in many forms. The most common types include:

Device-Related Infections

Treatment involving the insertion of medical devices into the body can cause infections, especially if these devices have not been cleaned or maintained properly. For example, an improperly maintained Foley catheter can cause a urinary tract infection. When a patient is on a ventilator, he or she can acquire ventilator-assisted pneumonia if germs get into the breathing tube. Bloodstream infections can occur when germs multiply on central lines.

Complications caused by device-related infections can cause organ failure and even death. 

Surgical Site Infections

These occur close to or in the site where you were cut open during surgery. They often result from a lack of proper cleaning and sanitation during the surgical procedure or post-operative care.

Respiratory Infections

Fungi, viruses, and bacteria can be found in the air and on surfaces in medical facilities. Inhaling these can lead to respiratory infections. Admitted patients are at a greater risk of contracting respiratory infections than visitors and those seeking outpatient services.

When Can You Sue for Hospital-Acquired Infections?

You could sue for damages if you suffered harm from a hospital-acquired infection resulting from negligent medical care. Causation and damages are the two commonly disputed aspects in medical malpractice claims involving hospital-acquired infections. You will need to prove that the hospital’s actions or non-actions caused the infection, and that you suffered significant damages. An adverse outcome or healthcare professional making a mistake on its own will not make a claim valid.

Causation

Whether your infection case can be considered medical malpractice largely depends on proving your illness or injury resulted from someone else’s medical negligence. You could be left without legal recourse if the infection cannot be found to be anyone’s fault.

If a hospital or its staff was negligent, and you developed an infection in the hospital, you may have increased chances of success with your claim. Healthcare providers can act negligently in several ways and cause hospital-acquired infections. Examples of negligent acts include:

  • Poor hand hygiene of medical professionals
  • Improper sterilization of equipment, bedding, and surroundings
  • Failure to correctly identify and treat an infection before it causes further injury
  • Negligent exposure of non-infected patients to others with infectious diseases
  • Not cleaning a wound properly
  • Improper catheter placement and untimely removal

These mistakes may stem from communication errors, delayed treatment, failure to monitor a patient’s symptoms properly, and the absence, disregard, or poor application of standard guidelines and medical procedures to control and prevent infections. In cases where a hospital is liable for infections affecting a large group of people, a class action lawsuit may be filed against the hospital. For example, a hospital may have subpar safety practices, leading to multiple patients contracting infections. In 2019, a class action lawsuit was filed against a hospital after a sterilization failure potentially exposed more than 1,000 patients to deadly infections.

Several factors make it greatly challenging to prove that a hospital or its staff caused your infection. It may be hard to determine when the infection occurred and the level of care that was missed leading to the condition. The infection could have happened during or after a surgical procedure or during wound care. It is even more difficult to establish when the infection started if you discovered it after being discharged from the hospital. With neonatal sepsis, for instance, vertical transmission can occur before or during childbirth, or horizontal transmission can happen after birth through contact with medical providers, caregivers, or contaminants in the environment.

Performing an investigation is usually necessary to determine how you acquired the infection, the responsible party, and whether the infection was diagnosed or treated promptly. For that reason, it is essential to hire a medical malpractice lawyer if you have developed a hospital-acquired condition. The lawyer will investigate the circumstances that led to your infection to figure out if there was negligence and if your doctor, some other healthcare professional, or the hospital is liable for you contracting the infection.

Damages

To successfully file a claim for hospital-acquired infections, you will need to provide proof that you or a loved one suffered damages due to the infection. Hospital-acquired infections can have negative effects on patients, their careers, and their families.

The new illness may prolong your treatment process, recovery time, and stay in the hospital. It increases your medical costs, which medical insurance may not fully reimburse. According to a study that was published in 2013, common preventable hospital-acquired infections were associated with high costs of treatment. The average treatment cost was found to be $45,814 for bloodstream infections, $40,144 for ventilator-associated pneumonia, $20,785 for surgical site infections, $11,285 for Clostridium difficile infection, and $896 for catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

You may also experience emotional suffering and lose more workdays during treatment and recovery from a hospital-acquired infection. Loved ones will also have to cope with the new infection’s emotional impact. Infections contracted at healthcare facilities can also be deadly.

If you have suffered damages because of a hospital-acquired infection, you may be able to recover compensation for your experiences and losses. Considering the potential consequences of hospital-acquired conditions and the fact that they usually become more severe the longer they go undiagnosed and untreated, the damages you may be entitled to recover could be significant. You could recover damages for a number of expenses and losses, including:

  • Medical bills associated with the treatment of the infection
  • Loss of past and future wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Funeral and burial expenses if the infection led to a loved one’s death

If you or a loved one has suffered from a hospital-acquired infection in Nevada, it is important that you connect with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to find out if you can sue.

How Are Hospital-Acquired Infections Prevented?

Hospital-acquired infections are preventable. One study found that over 75% of the HAIs identified in 10 hospitals were preventable. Hospitals and healthcare professionals have a responsibility to protect patients by taking reasonable measures to prevent the spread of infections. Using reasonable care to provide clean hospital environments and enforcing policies that promote sanitary conditions help dramatically reduce the rate of HAIs.

Routine training of healthcare professionals can help them adopt the right practices for preventing the spread of infections. Hospital staff should adhere to handwashing and other hygiene practices to lower the risk of patient infection. Hospitals should have antibiotic stewardship programs to ensure patients receive the right drug in the correct dose at the right time. Overuse or misuse of antibiotics encourages the growth of super bugs, which are resistant to antibiotics and allow for the development and spread of infections in hospitals.

Proper sterilization of hospital equipment, using antiseptic solutions appropriately, and separating patients with infectious conditions from infection-free ones also help reduce hospital-acquired infections. Hospital staff should be vigilant in identifying and treating infections to prevent them from becoming more severe and potentially life-threatening.

You can also take certain steps to protect yourself from negligent healthcare providers and contracting hospital-acquired infections. These steps include: keeping your hands clean, ensuring all healthcare personnel handling you wash their hands, telling your doctor if you notice signs of an infection, and stopping smoking well in advance of a surgical procedure to lower your risk of developing a surgical site infection.

Nevertheless, despite your best efforts, you could still acquire an infection from a hospital due to medical negligence. Therefore, you may benefit from discussing can you sue for hospital-acquired infections with an attorney. Suing for HAIs helps victims and their families secure compensation for the additional medical bills and other losses and holds healthcare providers accountable, so they can make proper changes, helping protect other patients from also becoming victims.

Mr. Osborne is a seasoned trial lawyer with more than thirty years of litigation experience representing those injured in car accidents, by medical malpractice, or other forms of negligence. He is a member of the Nevada Justice Association and the Multi-Million Dollar Forum.

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