Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Fighting for Victims of Bed Rail Injuries
Our lawyers have unique experience handling bed rail wrongful death and injury cases. Bed rails have been used on hospital beds as far back as the early 1800’s. The bed rail has evolved drastically since then to include call buttons, bed controls, and other features. They are also available in many styles (i.e. half rails, split rails, or full rails) and materials (metal or plastic). Although bed rails now include many bells and whistles, their purpose still remains very fundamental. Nursing homes have bed rails installed on beds for the following reasons:
- To help patients turn and reposition themselves within bed
- To help patients get in and out of bed
- To prevent patients from rolling out of bed
The three items listed above can be combined into one important reason for installing bed rails: to prevent patients from falling. For elderly patients, falls cause serious injuries such as skin lacerations, bone fractures, internal bleeding, and head trauma.
The bed rail is an important safety feature of nursing home beds, but unfortunately, it produces additional potential for patients to injure themselves. If nursing home staff is negligent in their supervision of the resident, a bedrail can serve as a deadly noose-like trap. One estimate is that nearly 4,000 elderly patients are treated at hospitals every year for injuries caused by bed rails. Between 1985 and 2009, the FDA recorded 480 patient deaths from being trapped by bed rails. The true number of deaths is likely to be much higher since many bed rail nursing home deaths are not reported to the FDA.
Types of Bed Rail Injuries
The FDA launched an extensive investigation into bed rail injuries in the early 2000’s. They concluded that there are seven zones on a bed that are the most dangerous for entrapment and injury.
Areas Around Bed Rails with Highest Potential for Injury
Persons are injured by bed rails when they become lodged in the spaces between the rail and the mattress. The following injuries can occur when a patient becomes trapped:
- Asphyxiation (choking death from bed rails) – caused by the face being pressed up against the mattress or from the chest being compressed. If a patient chokes to death in a bed rail, this is a Class I reportable event to CMS, as bed rail asphyxiation is a ‘never event’ in nursing homes and hospitals.
- Cardiac arrest – caused by the chest being compressed or from the exertion and stress of trying to pull oneself away from the bed rail
- Head/neck injury – caused when the head is caught within the rail itself
- Skin bruising, contusions, or cuts – caused when arms or legs become trapped by the bed rail
- Fall – caused from the bed rail suddenly collapsing or from trying to climb over the bed rail
Why Are Bed Rails So Dangerous to Nursing Home Residents and Hospital Patients?
Bed rails fall within a gray area of government regulation. Bed rails are only evaluated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) when they are designed as an accessory for an FDA-regulated bed. Even then, the FDA provides only recommended guidelines and no mandatory requirements.
In addition to the lack of regulation, bed rails are often sold and stored separately from bed frames and mattresses. This creates two potentially dangerous circumstances: a bed rail is improperly installed onto a bed or the incorrect bed rail is chosen for installation. A bed rail that is improperly installed or does not match the bed creates larger gaps between the rail and bed frame/mattress. If a nursing home or hospital uses incorrectly sized bed rails on their patient’s beds, and the patient is killed because they got stuck in the bedrail, this may be grounds for a bed rail wrongful death claim.
Concerns for Nursing Home Patients
Nursing home patients are typically much older and weaker than other patients. They also have an assortment of underlying conditions (i.e. dementia, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s) that prompt the use of bed rails. However, nursing home patients are also more prone to becoming injured by bed rails. When nursing home patients become trapped between a bed rail and a mattress, they are often too weak to pull themselves out. The more they struggle to extricate themselves, the more they become wedged and the more they become stressed. Nurses should round at-risk patients more frequently to ensure they are safely in bed and not stuck in the hospital bed’s bed rail.
Caretakers must assess the need for bed rails on a case-by-case basis. Safer alternatives to bed rails can sometimes be used in preventing falls. These alternatives include offering mobility aids (i.e. walker or cane), placing alarms on the bed to alert staff of a patient’s movement, keeping the bed in a position low to the floor, and administering medications for agitation.
When a bed rail is first installed, nursing home staff must check that the bed rail properly fits to the frame and mattress. Caretakers must remember to regularly check the fit between the bed rail and mattress. Mattresses frequently slide and move which can cause gaps to form between the rail and mattress.
Lawsuits Regarding Bed Rail Injuries
Our elder abuse and neglect law firm has a combined 50+ years of bringing bed rail injury claims in multiple venues. Bed rails have been known to cause serious injury and even death to nursing home patients. In fact, the high incidence rate of injury and death prompted the FDA to issue a safety alert in 1995 as well as issue new guidelines for the design and use of bed rails in 2006. Nonetheless, hundreds of preventable bed rail injuries still occur every year in long term care facilities, like nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities. Many times, the bed rail itself is improperly assembled or dysfunctional. This will defeat the purpose of the bed rail’s safety. Other times, the bed rail itself is built correctly but nurses have ignored the patient for a long period of time, allowing the patient to get caught in the bed rail. When this happens, the injury or wrongful death is not the bed rail’s fault per se, but rather a product of nursing negligence for failing to check on the patient and intervene.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries or died because of a bed rail, another party may be at fault. For example, the manufacturer or distributor of a defective bed rail may be liable for any injury caused by the defect (i.e. bed rail suddenly collapses and causes a patient to fall). A nursing home may be liable if a bed rail was not installed properly or if a bed rail was unnecessarily prescribed. If you or a loved one was injured by a bed rail, please call our office for a free consultation. Our bed rail injury attorneys will do the best they can to help you and your family.
Do I have a Bed Rail Injury or Wrongful Death Claim?
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Hignett S. and Griffiths P. “Do Split-Side Rails Present an Increased Risk to Patient Safety?” Quality Safety Health Care. 2005, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 113-116. http://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/14/2/113.full.
Hyman W.A. “FDA Updates Bed Rail Entrapment Guidelines.” January 8, 2014.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “A Guide to Bed Safety Bed Rails in Hospitals, Nursing Homes and Home Health Care: The Facts.” April 2010. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/GeneralHospitalDevicesandSupplies/HospitalBeds/ucm123676.htm.