An often overlooked hazard that patients at rehab centers can face is a poorly maintained property. To add to the confusion on this front, while the rules of premises liability that apply to typical slip and fall cases also apply to rehab centers, these centers have heightened responsibilities to care for their patients because of how foreseeable it is that their patients will be at risk of an injury.
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian explain how it all works out and why rehab centers can be treated differently than other property owners or businesses.
General Rules of Premises Liability Law
Premises liability law is the field of personal injury law that deals with accidental injuries caused by a dangerous or hazardous condition on someone else's property.
Common premises liability situations reveal why this field of law is known as “slip and fall law”:
- Someone slips on a wet floor and falls to the ground
- A staircase banister breaks while someone leans on it and falls down the stairs
- A protruding step causes someone to trip
- Ice on a sidewalk that was not cleared or iced causes someone to fall
- Exposed wiring causes someone to get electrocuted.
In each of these cases, a hazard on the premises leads to someone else getting hurt.
Premises liability law seeks to hold accountable property owners and managers for their negligent maintenance and their decisions to put innocent people at risk by saving money on necessary fixes. Much of a premises liability case looks to whether it was reasonable to expect the owner or operator to fix the hazard or whether the victim should have noticed the dangerous condition and avoided it.
Factors in this determination include:
- Whether the victim was a trespasser, permitted visitor, or invited visitor
- How foreseeable it was that the victim would be in the place he or she ended up getting hurt
- The age of the victim
- How apparent the hazard would have been to the victim
- Whether there were warning signs posted for the hazard.
Each of these factors can work to tilt the scales towards one of two possible outcomes: The victim should reasonably have been expected to avoid the hazard, or the property owner should reasonably have taken steps to keep the victim safe by warning of the hazard or fixing it entirely.
How Premises Liability Law is Different for Rehab Centers
Because so much of premises liability law centers around how to reasonably apportion the blame for the victim's injuries, the context of the situation matters a lot. One of the key components that make premises liability slightly different in the context of drug and alcohol rehab centers is the fact that the patients in these centers are going to be emotionally unstable while they work to overcome their addiction. They are prone to violent outbursts as well as suicidal thoughts.
These tendencies matter for premises liability law because they drastically alter how foreseeable it would be for a patient to, for example, assault another patient or attempt to commit suicide. While it would not be reasonable to require all buildings over ten stories to have windows that cannot be opened very far, it is completely reasonable for drug or alcohol rehab centers in tall buildings to install window blocks that prevent them from being opened more than a hand's width. With patients who are reasonably likely to try committing suicide, rehab centers should be expected to take precautions to prevent it from happening, even though other businesses would not be.
The foreseeable conduct of patients also makes it reasonable for rehab centers to take extra precautions to limit or even prevent unsupervised visits between patients. Because patients are more likely to be emotionally unstable or even violent towards one another, rehab centers should take steps towards preventing criminal activities like assaults or abusive conduct between patients.
Additionally, drug rehab facilities are especially prone to the spread of infectious disease. Many of the people who are in drug rehab centers have been using drugs for long periods of time and have been exposed to shared syringes and all sorts of diseases that could pose a threat to the others in the facility. To make matters worse, many of the patients in drug rehab centers have immune systems that have at least been compromised by their drug use.
Because these conditions are all completely foreseeable – indeed, they are entirely predictable in the rehab business – rehab centers should be held accountable if they fail to take extra precautions to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in their facility. Their line of business makes them different than other property owners or managers.
While situations like infectious diseases, patient assaults, and self-harm all seem like they would fall outside the realm of a field of law that tends to focus more on people slipping and falling on ice or wet floors, premises liability law stretches outwards to include instances where a visitor is counting on the premises owner to keep him or her safe from foreseeable dangers. The different situations that rehab centers should be expected to control highlight what should be considered reasonable conduct from a rehab center that would be strange to expect from another industry or business.
Gilman & Bedigian: Personal Injury Lawyers for Premises Liability Situations in Rehab Centers
Rehab centers have a higher level of responsibility to keep their patients safe precisely because of how unstable those patients are likely to be while in the rehab center's care. Despite this extra responsibility, many rehab centers seem to take even fewer precautions than what other types of businesses take. As a result, injuries in rehab centers are far from uncommon. These rehab centers should be held accountable if you or a loved one has been hurt.
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to represent innocent victims in court and help them recover the compensation that they need and deserve. Contact us online to get your case started.