Hospitals and nursing homes often use bed rails on patient/resident beds in an effort to prevent falls from bed and to remind patients to call for assistance when they need to get out of bed. Bed rails are often constructed from metal and may be used on one or both sides of the bed, and may be implemented on the top half of the bed only, the bottom half of the bed only, or the entire length of the bed. They are typically manufactured so that they may be lowered without having to be removed, in order for patients/residents to get out of bed or to aid caregivers in providing care to bed-ridden patients. Despite the intent of bed rails to be a safe and effective method of preventing injuries, sometimes the bed rails themselves cause injuries or death.
When bed rails are used on the beds of patients with dementia or patients with other cognitive or physical limitations, there is a risk that the patients may slip into the space between the bed rails and the bed and thereby lose consciousness, become injured, or even be strangled. There are reported cases where the patient/resident was found entangled in the bed rail with the patient’s neck having been compressed, leading to the patient’s death. Bed rails may be considered a form of physical restraint and therefore require a determination of the need for bed rails and that less confining alternatives are not appropriate or available before they are ordered by the appropriate medical caregiver for the patient.
Some estimates indicate that between 150 and 525 people in the United States who were mostly older individuals died as a result of becoming trapped in bed rails between 2003 and May 2012, and about 4,000 people (mostly older adults) were treated annually in emergency rooms due to bed rail injuries. The actual numbers could be much higher because emergency rooms, nursing homes, and investigators often do not list bed rails as a cause of injury or death.
Even though safety experts recommend that safety warnings be placed on bed rails, the matter is complicated because there is an issue as to whether bed rails are medical devices that are subject to regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) or are consumer products that would be regulated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”). In 1995, the FDA issued safety warnings regarding bed rails but the resulting guidelines adopted in 2006 were voluntary and there was no requirement for bed rail manufacturers to place safety labels on bed rails. Approximately 550 bed rail deaths have occurred since the 1995 bed rail warnings were issued, with 27 of those deaths occurring in 2011. Nonetheless, there are no statistics regarding how many injuries and possible deaths may have been averted because bed rails were in place and prevented hospital patients and nursing home residents from falling out of bed.
If a member of your family or a loved one was injured as a result of a bed rail accident, the bed rail victim may be entitled to compensation for his/her injuries and losses. You should promptly contact a local medical malpractice attorney who may be willing to investigate the possible bed rail claim and file a bed rail injury lawsuit on behalf of the injured person.
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