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Preszler Injury Lawyers Help Elderly Victim of Hospital Negligence


Case Summary: Zheng v. Vancouver General Hospital, 2022 BCSC 1794

Facts of the Case

In the early hours of the morning on September 21, 2016, Ying Wei Zheng (“the Plaintiff”), a man in his 80s suffering from a low heart rate, was admitted to the Cardiac Care Unit (“CCU”) of Vancouver General Hosptial (“VGH”) after being brought to the emergency room by his daughter, Li Crystal Zheng (“Ms. Zheng”). Sometime that evening, the Plaintiff sustained a fracture of his right hip as the result of a fall.

Upon being transferred to the CCU, the Plaintiff was assessed by Nurse Vivian Chiu (“Nurse Chiu”) who continued to be responsible for his care up until the time of his fall. Nurse Chiu observed that he was calm, alert, and showed no signs of cognitive issues. She also reported no issues with his functional mobility. Throughout the morning and afternoon, the Plaintiff’s condition continued to be monitored, and no issues were reported.

That afternoon, Ms. Zheng reported to Nurse Chiu that the Plaintiff had begun acting strangely. She testified that her father had become unusually talkative, made outlandish, out-of-the-ordinary claims, was hallucinating, and would not listen to her. When Nurse Chiu reassessed the Plaintiff, she noted that, despite sporadic instances of confusion and hallucination, he was not cognitively impaired.

Around 7:00pm, Ms. Zheng left the hospital. However, before leaving her father alone for the night, she approached the nursing station and informed two nurses that her father was still not acting normally. Although no record of this conversation exists, Ms. Zheng claims that she informed the nurses that her father was restless and hallucinating.

Although Nurse Chiu had already identified that the Plaintiff had a complete heart block and was, therefore, at risk of falling should he attempt to get out of bed, she took no further action to reassess his mental state, nor did she take additional precautions to prevent a falling accident from occurring. Ms. Zheng’s concerns should have resulted in an additional review of the Plaintiff’s condition and, if necessary, a change in his care plan. Neither of those actions were undertaken, and the Plaintiff was subsequently seriously injured in a fall.

The plaintiff sought damages from Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, which operates the VGH. The case was heard by the Honourable Chief Justice Hinkson.

At Issue in the Case

In order to prove that negligence was the ultimate cause of the Plaintiff’s compensable injuries, they were required to prove that:

  • They were owed a duty of care by the Defendant
  • The Defendant breached the standard of care
  • That breach of the standard of care caused the Plaintiff to be injured
  • Damages were incurred as a result of the Defendant’s breach of the standard of care

VGH (i.e., the Defendant) did not dispute that the Plaintiff was owed a duty of care from its nursing staff, nor did the hospital dispute that it is vicariously liable for injuries sustained by its patients because of its nursing staff’s negligence. At issue in this case, then, is whether the nursing staff failed to meet their standard of care and, if so, whether that breach caused the Plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

Decision

The Honourable Chief Justice Hinkson found that VGH’s nursing staff failed to uphold the requisite standard of care and that this negligence caused the Plaintiff to fracture his hip. The Defendant is vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees and is required to pay the Plaintiff $75,000 in damages.

Reasons

As a result of his fall at the hospital, the Plaintiff sustained an intertrochanteric fracture to his right hip. Surgery was required, as was the fixation of a nail. After undergoing surgery, his mobility was substantially compromised, and remained so years later.

Before sustaining injuries at VGH in 2016, the Plaintiff claims that he was quite mobile and did not require the use of a cane to get around. Ms. Zheng testified that, since his fall, he has not been able to regain the same level of strength he had prior to the accident. He now uses a cane, walks very slowly, and has experienced a significant decrease in mobility. This poses a substantial challenge, as his apartment is on the second floor of a residential building with no elevator. The Plaintiff requires help showering and cannot independently complete any basic tasks of daily living.

Ms. Zheng asserts that her father’s mental health has been severely affected by the medical condition he acquired after his fall. She claims he made comments stating that he no longer wished to live.

The Standard of Care and Its Breach

While nurses are not required to be perfect, they should exercise the caution, prudence, and skill that could be reasonably expected by a patient who relies on their skillsets. If a nurse assesses that a patient is at risk of falling, they should take certain steps to prevent this from occurring.

Nurses use a “Falls Assessment form” as a tool to gauge a patient’s risk of falling. If a patient is at risk of falling, the attending nurse might undertake various fall prevention strategies, including setting up a bed alarm, moving the patient closer to the nursing station, restraining the patient, engaging a one-to-one sitter, and other preventative measures.

In this case, prudent preventative actions were not undertaken by VGH’s nursing staff. The Plaintiff was not reassessed after Ms. Zheng reported her concerns to the nursing staff, nor was he reassessed every four hours, as is standard practice. The Plaintiff’s increased risk of getting out of bed due to confusion and hallucinations was not taken into consideration by Nurse Chiu. Furthermore, appropriate preventative measures recommended on the Falls Assessment form were not put into place to reduce the patient’s risk of falling.

Causation

To prove that this breach of the standard of care caused the Plaintiff to sustain injuries, Dairn Shane of Preszler Injury Lawyers was able to illustrate on a balance of probabilities that, had it not been for the negligence of the nursing staff, our client would not have been hurt in a fall.

The injury-causing accident occurred after Ms. Zheng left her father alone in his hospital bed. She had been by his side throughout the whole day, preventing him from getting up from bed on his own. The Plaintiff’s accident only occurred after his daughter left for the evening.

Had one-to-one supervision been provided by the nursing staff after Ms. Zheng went home for the night, it is likely that continued supervision would have prevented a falling accident. Ms. Zheng made a point to voice her concerns to the nursing staff before leaving, but the nurses failed to provide the Plaintiff with adequate one-to-one supervision. This breach of the standard of care, therefore, can be considered the cause of the Plaintiff’s accident during which his injuries were sustained.

Summary

VGH is vicariously liable for the negligence of its staff. The hospital’s nursing staff breached the standard of care they were reasonably expected to provide to the Plaintiff. This negligence caused an elderly man to fall, sustaining severe injuries that have continued to impact his mobility, his independence, and his overall quality of life.

Medical malpractice claims are well known in the personal injury bar as claims that are defended vigorously by insurance companies, with a high percentage pushed to trial. Insurance companies have massive resources available to defend these claims, making access to justice a significant problem for survivors of medical negligence.

With assistance from Preszler Injury Lawyers, the Plaintiff was able to prove how the nursing staff’s negligence caused his injurious accident to occur. The Plaintiff will recover $75,000 in general damages from the Defendant.

Congratulations to Dairn Shane and his team on another win at trial for a deserving client.

Call 1-877-572-1324 to speak with our British Columbia legal intake team for free Book Free Consultation

Source: Zheng v. Vancouver General Hopsital, 2022 BCSC 1794

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