Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (6)4 Apr 98


Quick Summary: It was negligent not to have sufficient staff lift and transfer this 300 pound patient.

A hospital has a legal obligation to each patient to give due regard to the patient’s physical and mental condition while caring for the patient.

There was a nursing progress note that this patient was weak, shaky and unsteady on his feet. He weighed about 300 pounds.  SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA, 1997.


   The patient sued the hospital for negligence. The hospital asked the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia to rule whether there were sufficient legal grounds for the suit. The court ruled this patient had valid grounds for a civil negligence lawsuit.

   The patient’s lawsuit stemmed from three incidents over a nine day period. He had been admitted through the emergency room for shortness of breath. Early the next morning he was being helped into bed, when he fell.

   A few days later he fell out of bed, apparently because the nursing staff had neglected to put the siderails up. It took eight people to get him on a couple of drawsheets and then pick him up from the floor. The court took this as evidence the nursing staff actually were aware how much lifting help was needed to handle this patient safely.

   Then he fell again, during a transfer to bed, when his knees gave out in the middle of a pivot maneuver. The court said there were not enough staff directly assisting in the transfer. The court questioned how well this patient’s ability to transfer had been assessed and how smart it was to use a transfer technique where he would be standing even momentarily.

   The court found the charting was not clear whether professional nurses, certified nursing assistants or hospital ancillary staff were involved in these incidents. The court said this was not important, however, since any hospital staff who do even the most basic direct patient care are expected to know how to render care safely. McGraw v. St. Joseph’s Hospital, 488 S.E. 2d 389 (W. Va., 1997).