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Early Hospital Discharge: When Is It Malpractice?

Nurses at HospitalEveryone wants to get home as quickly as possible after a stay in the hospital. However, sometimes it may actually be counterproductive and dangerous to be let go too soon. While the proverbial jury is still out in many states as to whether it constitutes medical malpractice to discharge someone too soon, it is a valid cause of action in California.

Common Occurrences of Early Discharge

Many hospitals, especially in city centers, are prone to overcrowding and double-booking. While sometimes this is unavoidable, sometimes it is due to poor planning or administrative mistakes. This can result in patients being sent home before they are medically stable enough to leave the hospital. This most often occurs:

  • In infants. Because infants commonly develop conditions or illnesses in their first few days of life, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that a newborn be kept at the hospital for no less than 48 hours. Any sooner discharge can be problematic;
  • In adults post-surgery. Testing for infection or for the functioning of an implanted device (such as a pacemaker) may not be sufficiently complete when adult patients are discharged; and
  • In adults with psychiatric conditions. Symptoms of a psychiatric illness may be managed, but require constant care to prevent relapse.

In addition to these specialized cases, it is not uncommon for adult patients to require re-admission to the hospital due to inadequate or hastily communicated instructions from their doctor about their illness or condition. The crux of the matter is whether a patient is released with the tools and the ability to properly care for themselves. If not, the patient may have a valid claim for malpractice.

Proving Medical Negligence

Many people believe the re-admission to the hospital, if one occurs, must be found negligent before they have a valid claim for medical malpractice. This is not the case - one must simply prove that a doctor of similar age, experience and talent would not have discharged them at the time and date they were discharged. More specifically, one must prove (1) that a duty existed between the patient and the medical professional (California does this by law); (2) that the duty was breached; (3) that the doctor’s actions were the direct cause of that breach; and (4) that the patient suffered tangible harm. The harm need not be physical, but it must not be transient (that is, it must linger for a period of time).

Very often, these points are proven or at least augmented by the testimony of an expert witness. Expert testimony can more clearly illuminate the prevailing standard of care, and show that a doctor did not adhere to it when he released the patient too soon. Expert testimony may also illuminate the issue of causation, showing that the doctor’s actions directly caused the breach of their duty.

A Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help

Early discharge cases can be difficult to identify, especially if the harm you suffered could plausibly be an isolated incident. Enlisting the services of a medical malpractice lawyer can help make your case stronger and clearer, giving you a greater chance of receiving the compensation you may need to get back on your feet. The skilled San Jose medical malpractice lawyers at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. understand how intimidating the legal process can be, and will do our best to provide experience, knowledge and a compassionate ear. Contact us today to discuss your options. We serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Alameda, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and San Mateo.

Client Reviews
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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.