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Pt. self-inflicts numerous lacerations with box cutter.

DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES. How often have you encountered patients in your hospital who have used box cutters to self-inflict wounds for the sole purpose of attempting to have narcotics administered to them?

ON MAY 16, 2000, ERIC THORNTON WAS INVOLUNTARILY COMMITTED TO E J. CHERRY HOSPITAL AFTER INFLICTING TWENTY LACERATIONS TO HIMSELF WITH A BOX CUTTER. His motive was to obtain narcotic painkillers. The same day he tried to persuade Ruth Maye, a Registered Nurse, that he had broken his right leg and needed narcotics for pain. There was no evidence that the patient's leg was broken. Nurse Maye did not provide narcotics to the patient. Hospital staff informed him he would not be given narcotics. The patient contacted his family and complained that the hospital would not provide him with narcotics and suggested that he might run his head through glass in order to obtain narcotics. On May 17, the patient continued to seek narcotics from hospital staff. He became irate, attempted to throw a wheelchair, and threatened to sue the hospital for "poor health care." He also told a nurse that his left knee was broken and that he needed narcotics. No evidence suggested that the patient's left knee was broken. At3:15 p.m. that day, the patient and another patient engaged in a verbal confrontation. Hospital staff separated the patients pursuant to hospital procedure. At 4:00 p.m., a hospital employee conducted a routine ward check. He observed the patient awake and seated in the TV room. Shortly thereafter, the patient became involved in a physical altercation with other patients in the TV room. The patient alleged the "whole ward" had "jumped" on him and an assailant stomped on his left leg, causing a fracture to his left tibia. The patient filed a claim against the hospital for damages under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act. The patient testified that no hospital staff members were present in the ward, that all were on "break." The patient presented no witnesses regarding the alleged attack. The hospital presented evidence that several staff members were within anywhere from ten to fifty feet from the alleged altercation. After a hearing, the Deputy Commissioner denied the patient's claim. The patient appealed to the Full Commission. The Full Commission affirmed the Deputy Commissioner's denial of the patient's claim. The patient appealed.

THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NORTH CAROLINA AFFIRMED THE COMMISSION'S FINDINGS. The court held, inter alia, that the Commission properly concluded: (1) the patient failed to prove the hospital had notice of the alleged threats; (2) the patient presented no evidence of negligent conduct by any hospital employee; (3) the plaintiff failed to show the level of care the hospital owed to him; and (4) the patients claim was barred by contributory negligence. The court further noted that the patient failed to demonstrate that the Commission's finding were unsupported by competent evidence. Further the court found that the patient failed to show that the Commission's findings of facts did not support its conclusions of law.

TODAY, HOSPITALS MUST BE MORE VIGILANT THAN EVER BEFORE AND STAND READY, WILLING AND ABLE TO CONFRONT VIRTUALLY ANY SITUATION WHICH MIGHT BE FOR SEE ABLE IN TODAY'S SOCIETY. Drug addicts are more prevalent than ever before. There is no doubt whatsoever that hospitals have a responsibility to take reasonably prudent methods to protect both patients and invitees. Curiously the patient who initiated action against the hospital was the very type of person against whom hospitals must protect both their patients and invitees. This patient self inflicted numerous wounds to his face and body with a box cutter as a means to obtain narcotics. A dissenting opinion was filed. The dissenting judge disagreed with the majority's conclusion that the patient failed to establish that the hospital had breached a duty owed to the patient and that the patient was contributorily negligent. However, the dissenting judge focused on an exception to the rule, which provides that "there is a duty upon the actor to control the third person's conduct and to guard other persons against his dangerous propensities when certain relationships exist. The dissenting judge concluded that the patient, having been involuntarily committed, could not be considered an invitee of the hospital in the truest sense of the word. Significantly, the dissenting judge agreed that the majority opinion properly stated the general rule that there is no duty to protect someone from harm caused by third persons. Thornton v. F. J. Cherry Hospital, No. 06-1096-051507 (05/15/2007) S.E.2d

Meet the Editor & Publisher: A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Rhode Island firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's, Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Regan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals, A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:884
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