It's not unusual for a victim's family to hold the employer accountable when their loved one dies on the job. However, the husband of a nurse who died earlier this year in a car accident is suing the hospital where his wife worked in a wrongful death suit. The husband asserts his wife was "worked to death." The two main reasons to file a wrongful death suit are to give the family due compensation and to hold the responsible party accountable, hopefully leading to change that will protect people in the future. This case has the potential to do both.
The husband claims his wife often worked 12-hour shifts, working through breaks, due to understaffing. Additionally, she was required to pick up extra shifts and was often called in on her days off. After working a 12-hour shift, the plaintiff's wife ran off the road and hit a tree. Sadly, the 38 year-old mother of two died from her injuries. Testimony from other nurses revealed the wife complained about being "really stressed" and that she had not eaten during the shift just before her accident. The lawsuit claims that fatigue from being overworked contributed to her death. The husbands believes she may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
The plaintiff's attorney alleges the hospital deliberately did not take care of their employees. Adding further validity to the claim is testimony from the deceased's supervisor, which states the supervisor told her managers that the nurse was being "worked to death." The supervisor also testified that she complained about understaffing to the hospital's parent company.
According to National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in the U.S., understaffing and overextended shifts are a problem throughout the country. In fact, Union Government Relations Director Bonnie Castillo calls understaffing, "the single biggest issue facing nurses nowadays." The organization admits, however, that wrongful death litigation due to the problem is not common.
Winning a wrongful death suit against this hospital will certainly compensate this husband and their two children for the income they have lost, as well as the pain and suffering they will continue to endure. However, a case like this can have far-reaching benefits. Holding the hospital accountable could be a catalyst for change. Currently, California is the only state with legislation that mandates how many patients one nurse can take care of at one time. National Nurses United is pushing for nationwide regulations regarding nurse-patient ratios, as well as laws governing shifts. Even without major legislative changes, many hospitals may look at this case as a warning, making changes of their own.
Families of victims are often worried about the public perception that comes with bringing a wrongful death suit. However, as this case shows, even when the circumstances of the complaint are not common, the accusations are justified. Most wrongful death attorneys offer free consultations. Getting the advice of someone experienced in wrongful death claims can bring much needed relief to the family and bring about reform that will keep others safe. If this case is won, safer working conditions and better patient care will most likely result.