Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers are where people who are trying to overcome addiction go for the care and help they need. However, rehab centers are woefully unregulated by the government, allowing them to provide widely divergent types of care and therapy for people struggling to overcome addiction. Perhaps worse, there is no law that sets the baseline for what kind of care rehab centers have to offer patients.
As a result, the legal obligations and duties that rehab centers have to offer their patients are uncertain and vague. This means that patients who get hurt while at a rehab center – even if they get hurt by the intentional or abusive behavior of other patients or even staff – can struggle to show that the rehab center failed to uphold their legal standard of care.
The implications of these uncertainties can be significant. Proving that the rehab center should be held liable for your injuries can be a tricky and fact-intensive process that takes the skill and knowledge of a personal injury lawyer from the law offices of Gilman & Bedigian.
How Legal Duties Work
The law recognizes that people and companies can hurt each other. Drivers can hurt other drivers on the roads by being distracted or making reckless decisions. Drug companies can hurt the people who take their pills by refusing to disclose or actively covering up the dangers of their drugs. Investment bankers can hurt their clients by embezzling their money.
The law aims to prevent these things from happening and protect innocent victims by establishing legal duties for certain people. Drivers have a legal duty to drive like reasonable people would drive. Drug companies have legal duties to design, manufacture, and market their drugs in ways that are not defective. Investment bankers have legal duties to abide by the ethical rules of their profession.
Some of these legal duties come from laws and statutes that are specifically designed to regulate industries and make sure all of its practitioners provide at least a minimum of service to others – drivers can violate their legal duty to others by breaking the rules of the road. Other legal duties come from the industry, itself – investment bankers have a code of conduct to uphold. Still, other legal duties come from countless court cases that have settled what certain parties should reasonably be required to do – like the lines of products liability cases that have decided what a defective drug design looks like.
These legal duties form the baseline for personal injury lawsuits. Only by establishing the legal duty that the defendant had to abide by can a victim show that the legal duty was breached and that the breach caused the victim's losses.
The Legal Duties of Rehab Centers
Rehab centers have been an exploding business in the United States with the opioid crisis. Like many businesses that become popular very quickly, rehab facilities are very poorly regulated. There are no industry standards or codes of conduct that self-regulate rehab centers and require them to provide at least a minimal standard of care. There are also no federal laws that dictate when the care that rehab centers provide is substandard or regulations that protect rehab patients from dangers or guarantee them at least a minimal amount of care and attention at a rehab center.
States, on the other hand, have created a haphazard body of law that aims to regulate how rehab centers can operate. However, even these regulations can have gaping holes in them. For example, Pennsylvania and numerous other states only regulate rehab centers that receive state funding, like through Medicaid. Not even every state requires rehab centers to develop treatment or discharge plans for each patient.
What regulations do exist for rehab centers on the state level tends to focus on issues like:
- Specific licenses for inpatient care
- Qualifications necessary for the rehab center's director, program director, or staff members
- Requirement that there be a medical director on the staff who can prescribe medication
- Existence and necessary credentials for a counseling director on the staff of the rehab center
- Whether the rehab center has to follow up with patients who have graduated or left the facility
- Necessary credentials for substance abuse counselors
Courts have had to fill in these massive gaps by fashioning the legal standards of care and obligations that rehab centers have to uphold. Courts have done this by extending the principles of negligence law to the context of rehab centers.
Unfortunately, those “principles of negligence” are notoriously vague. They merely require rehab centers to behave “reasonably” and to provide a standard of care to their patients that is considered “reasonable.”
However, over the course of numerous cases involving rehab centers, this reasonableness standard has come up with a few settled legal obligations that rehab facilities have towards their patients.
The Duty to Hire Responsible People
Rehab centers have a legal duty to hire people who are able to perform their job and who do not put the patients at the rehab center into unreasonable risk. This legal duty is often coupled with state regulations that dictate the required experience or credentials that certain people need to have at the rehab facility. Failure to hire competent people to these positions can lead to the rehab center being found liable for injuries that this lack of experience costs.
This legal duty is also important in cases where rehab patients get physically assaulted or sexually assaulted by staff members at a rehab facility. If the staff member who committed the assault had a prior history of violence or sexual abuse, the rehab center could be held liable for your injuries for hiring the staffer and putting you and others in harm's way.
Legal Obligations Concerning Medication
In rehab, medication can play an important role in a patient's recovery. However, poorly structured or administered medications can lead to more harm than good. When medications prescribed at a rehab facility interact poorly with a patient's existing prescription regime, the results can be dangerous or even fatal.
Rehab centers have a legal duty to ensure this sort of thing does not happen.
A Legal Duty to Monitor Patients
It is completely foreseeable for patients at rehab facilities to be emotionally and mentally unstable. They are struggling to overcome a devastating addiction, and the stress that can put on the mind can be difficult to even fathom. Acting out in strange ways – from depression and suicidal thoughts to sudden outbursts of anger and violence – is not out of the ordinary in rehab facilities.
What should absolutely be out of the ordinary, though, is an out-of-control patient at a rehab facility gaining access to other patients and assaulting them. Should this ever happen, the rehab facility should be held accountable for their inability to monitor patients and protect those in their care.
The Legal Duty to Provide a Safe Environment
Rehab facilities also have a legal duty to provide their patients a safe environment. This comes in two forms.
First, the grounds of the rehab facility have to be kept reasonably safe. Dangerous conditions, like broken stairs or slippery floors, that could foreseeably lead to someone getting hurt need to be repaired promptly. If they are not fixed and you get hurt through no fault of your own, you deserve to be compensated.
Second, rehab facilities need to be kept clean and sanitary. Particularly in drug rehab, where syringes and infectious diseases are a common element in the recent history of many of the patients, the rehab facility has to take care to keep germs and infection under control. If they fail to do so, whether through negligence or because the rehab center's policies are too relaxed, the center should be held accountable.
The Downside to the Reasonableness Standard of Care at Rehab Centers
As can be expected from a standard of care that is so vague, there are some serious downsides to it. Chief among them is the fact that a reasonableness standard of care means that a huge majority of incidents that happen at rehab facilities fall into the gray areas between the settled legal duties that these facilities have to uphold.
As a result, most personal injury cases involving rehab centers become incredibly fact-intensive, requiring extensive investigations and evidence gathering to find out not just what happened, but also the context in which your injuries occurred. This also means that the odds of your case going all the way to trial are higher than for other types of personal injury claims – with less of the law settled, the rehab center is likely to be able to claim with more confidence that they did nothing wrong, and maintain that stance all the way to the jury's verdict.
Gilman & Bedigian: Personal Injury Lawyers Representing Those Hurt in Rehab
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to legally represent those who have been hurt in rehab centers in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Contact them online to get started on your case.