The case presented by the authors gives the opportunity to discuss the medico-legal issues related to lack of prevention of falls in elderly hospitalized patients.
A 101 year old Caucasian female was admitted to a surgery division for evaluation of abdominal pain of uncertain origin. During hospitalization, after bilateral bed rails were raised, she fell and reported a femoral fracture. Before surgical treatment of the fracture, scheduled for the day after injury, the patient reported a slight reduction in hemoglobin. She received blood transfusion but her general condition suddenly worsened; heart failure was observed and pulseless electrical activity was documented. The patient died 1 day after the fall. Patient relatives requested a judicial evaluation of the case.
The case was studied with a methodological approach based on the following steps: 1) examination of clinical records; 2) autopsy; 3) evaluation of clinicians’ behavior, in the light of necroscopic findings and a review of the literature.
The case shows that an accurate evaluation of clinical and environmental risk factors should be always performed at the moment of admission also in surgery divisions. A multidisciplinary approach is always recommended also with the involvement of the family members. In some cases, as in this one a fall of the patient is expectable but not always avoidable. Physical restraint use should be avoided when not necessary and used only if there are no practical alternatives.