Can health care worker fatigue cause car accidents?

A wrongful death lawsuit recently filed in Ohio could blur the lines between personal injury and workers’ compensation for overworked health care providers around the country, even those here in Colorado. The case involves the tragic death of a severely overworked nurse named Beth Jasper in March of 2013. Mrs. Jasper was driving home after another in a long line of extended shifts when she fell asleep behind the wheel, struck an embankment and crashed into a tree.

The lawsuit alleges that the hospital facility that employed Mrs. Jasper was aware that its nursing department was seriously understaffed and overworked – particularly those with special skills, like Mrs. Jasper, who was trained to assist patients undergoing dialysis treatment – resulting in longer shifts, being called in on scheduled days off, not being able to take scheduled breaks and sometimes not even being able to eat while on duty.

The suit further alleges that though the hospital was aware of the staffing issues, they failed to act upon them by hiring more nurses or using contract nurses to fill gaps when staff members were ill, failed to put nurses like Mrs. Jasper on a more regimented schedule that included breaks and failed to implement a policy that would limit the number of patients each nurse attends to during a shift.


Traditional Colorado health care worker injuries

Only time will tell if this case will result in a policy change across the country that could affect Colorado health care workers, or if it will be determined that Mrs. Jasper’s case will be treated as a workers’ compensation issue instead of a traditional personal injury/wrongful death case. In Colorado, traveling to and from work, absent unusual circumstances, is not covered under workers compensation. In the meantime, there are myriad other ways in which health care workers throughout our state can be injured on the job, all of which should typically be considered work comp-eligible.

Health care is a noble field, and workers in it, from the most brilliant physician down to nursing assistants and orderlies, serve a vital purpose. That being said, it is also a chaotic field, and one known for overworked professionals, fatigue and stress under extremely high stakes: a single mistake could be catastrophic for a patient, and might even be fatal. Most of the injuries facing health care workers are fairly obvious, including:

  • Needle sticks resulting in infections
  • Back injuries from lifting patients
  • Slips and falls
  • Assault from mentally ill, drugged or drunk patients

Numerous studies have proven that the fatigue that comes with long shifts (nurses throughout Colorado regularly work shifts of 12 hours or longer, sometimes without breaks, depending on their patient load, and resident physicians are usually on 24-hour call that can stretch into 30 or 36 hours if need dictates) can have a detrimental effect on patients, but the Jasper case shows that it could be deadly for the workers themselves as well.

Are you a healthcare worker who has been injured on the job in Colorado? Do you have questions about how to seek worker’s compensation benefits? Is your employer denying your injury claim? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, speak with a skilled Colorado workers’ compensation attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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