When we send a loved one to rehab, we do so with the hope that the treatment he or she received will have nothing but positive outcomes. Unfortunately, injuries in rehabilitation centers are all too common. Such injuries can include patients who harm themselves. Drug and alcohol rehab centers are responsible for keeping patients safe from harm, including self-harm.
Patients in rehab centers are at a particularly high risk for certain self-harm behaviors. These steps can include certain staff, patient ratios, and having policies in place that ensure a safe environment free of potential tools of self-harm and potentially dangerous medication. Rehab centers need to take certain steps to keep all environments safe for patients -- especially vulnerable patients - including those who are going through withdrawal. When such an incident does occur, loved ones often have some of the following questions.
What are the suicide and self-harm risks in Rehab?
Unfortunately, this is a very real risk for individuals who experience substance use disorder as well as individuals who seek treatment. Alcohol and drug abuse are strong risk factors for suicide and attempted suicide. According to research published in the American Journal of Addiction, 40% of patients seeking treatment for substance dependence report a history of suicide attempt(s). This rate is even higher among patients who have occurring mental health disorders. Major depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post‐traumatic stress disorder are especially associated with suicidal behavior in people with addictive disorders.
Are Rehab centers responsible for preventing suicide and self-harm?
Rehab centers have a duty of care to their patients. The medical care that is provided to the patients must adhere to the applicable standard of care. Additionally, the treatment environment must be set up in a manner that avoids any unnecessary risks. While some rehab centers specifically do not admit patients who have a documented history of suicide attempts, all must take the reasonable steps necessary to keep patients safe from self-harm.
Can medical malpractice occur in a Rehab facility?
Yes. Depending on the structure of the organization, a wide variety of medical professionals might interact with a patient undergoing treatment for substance abuse. These can include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, pharmacists, counselors, social workers, nurses, nurse assistants, and many more. These medical professionals are under the same duty of care to their patients as they would be in any other setting. They must follow the established standard of care applicable under the specific circumstances. Failure to adhere to this standard of care could give rise to a medical malpractice claim. Failure to adhere to the established standard of care could take a variety of forms in a rehab setting, including failure to follow proper protocol when a patient (or a recently discharged patient) has demonstrated signals that they may harm themselves or others.
Are Rehab centers liable for the action (or inaction) of their employees?
Under the legal doctrine of vicarious liability, a rehab center can be liable for an action (or a failure to act) of an employee. Employers (such as rehab facilities and other health care settings, such as hospitals) have a “corporate liability” to maintain competent workers who have received the proper education and training, and who retain the proper credentials for practicing medicine. A rehab center may be found at fault for failing to train, supervise, or monitor an employee who committed an act or a failure to act that qualifies as negligence.
Can I sue a Rehab facility over a loved one's suicide?
Yes. When these tragic events do occur and a rehab organization failed to adhere to the duty of care owed to a patient, it is possible to bring a lawsuit against that organization. Many successful claims have been brought against rehab centers and their parent companies when employees failed to take the proper steps to keep patients safe from self-harm and suicide.
A lawsuit in California demonstrated the legal recourse which can be available for families in these types of devastating cases. A jury in awarded $7 million to the family of a man who committed suicide after being in the care of the rehab for only 20 hours. The man suffered from depression, began abusing prescription medication and drinking heavily. He sought treatment at American Addiction Centers, Inc. He was transported 360 miles to be admitted to an inpatient facility. While there, he never saw a doctor, never saw a psychiatrist, and was never prescribed a medical taper for his withdrawal symptoms. According to facts included in the legal complaint, despite the fact that he was delusional and suffering from hallucinations, he was left alone in a room with razor blades, which he used to take his own life.
What could I recover in a lawsuit?
A civil claim against a rehab facility aims to compensate a victim and/or his or her family for all of the losses that they have suffered. These losses can include:
- Medical expenses, both past and future, and including the costs of care for non-physical injuries, such therapy
- Loss of companionship and consortium experienced by loved ones
- Funeral expenses
Additionally, some lawsuits aim to protect future potential victims from harm. Plaintiffs often request that facilities alter their policies or procedures in order to avoid further tragedy.
Legal Representation for Rehab Claims
The attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian have decades of experience fighting for victims and their families. If you suspect that a rehab facility did not fulfill their duty of care to your loved one, contact our legal team. We will review the facts of your case and guide you along the path to compensation and healing.
Confidential, Free Assistance
If you or someone you know needs help now, contact the SAMSHA's National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273- TALK (8255).