Can you sue for a hospital-acquired infection?

by | Jun 19, 2024 | Medical Malpractice, Negligence


People throng hospitals in the hopes of overcoming their infections and ailments and regaining their health. What if they contract infections and diseases from healthcare facilities? If hospitals became breeding places for infections, patients would undergo agonizing moments in their lives.

Patients in hospital wards and intensive care units (ICUs) may contract Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIS) due to various causes. These illnesses can be entirely treated if diagnosed early. HAIs that go undetected or are diagnosed late might increase the morbidity and mortality of inpatients in healthcare institutions. According to studies, around 2-5% of people who visit hospitals contract one or more types of infections.

Hospital-acquired infections are not mere infections; they’re only the tip of the iceberg hiding under them. When untreated, these infections can possibly result in the loss of lives. Hospital-acquired infections not only increase infections and deaths but also lengthen hospital stays, incur additional expenditures for patients, resulting in medical malpractice lawsuits, and place a huge financial burden on facilities and the government in the form of compensations. This also increases the number of lost workdays for the victim and has an impact on productivity, resulting in a loss of revenue for the government.

Have you ever been in a position like this in your life? Do you wish to know what to do in such circumstances? Read this blog to learn about the numerous types of hospital acquired infections, complications, prevention of hospital-acquired infections, and your options for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the facility.

What is a Hospital-Acquired Infection?

According to the NCBI, a Hospital-Acquired Infection or Healthcare-Associated Infection occurs when a patient contracts an infection within 48 to 72 hours of being admitted to the hospital. It’s sometimes referred to as a nosocomial infection. These infections will not be present or in an incubating stage at the time of admission.

The hospital-acquired infection statistics show that about 1.7 million HAIs and around 99,000 deaths occur in the United States every year. Nosocomial infections can arise in hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centers, clinics, ambulatory care, long-term care facilities, and rehabilitation centers. Newborns, young kids, people with weak immune systems, and the elderly are more prone to acquiring Healthcare-Associated infections.

Bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections are the most common causes of HAIs. America has found an increase in hospital-acquired infections as a result of greater hospitalizations during the COVID pandemic phase.

What are 6 Most Common Hospital-Acquired Infections?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has classified healthcare-acquired infections into different types. The top hospital-acquired infections are as follows.


Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI)

Urinary tract infection caused by catheter use is the most common nosocomial infection. There was a steady increase in CAUTI rates in 2020 compared to 2019. Catheters may be required for patients who have had surgery and cannot move, those who have no bladder control, and invalid patients. A catheter tube will be inserted into the bladder and pushed through the urinary tract to drain the urine into a catheter bag. The urethra, bladder, kidneys, and ureters can all be affected by a urinary tract infection.

Infections arise when microorganisms from the catheter enter the urinary tract. Some of the causes of CAUTI include improper catheter bag cleaning, failure to empty the catheter bag on time, and urine from the bag reversing into the bladder. UTIs are more common in bedridden people who have been using catheters for a long time. The pathogens causing CAUTI are Escherichia coli, Candida several species (spp), Enterococcus spp, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Enterobacter spp.

CAUTI symptoms include urine leakage around the catheter bag, pain in the lower abdomen or back, blood in the urine, and a persistent fever. The patient’s condition will improve after the catheter is removed and antibiotics are administered. Antibiotics should not be given until a definitive diagnosis of CAUTI has been made.

CAUTI can be prevented by hygienic catheter insertion by experienced staff, limiting unnecessary catheter insertions, keeping the catheter bag below the level of the bed, keeping the catheter bag intact without touching it with unclean hands, not pulling the catheter frequently, and limiting the timeframe the catheter is used.

Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI)

Thousands of people lose their lives to Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI) every year in the U.S. Approximately 4500 CLABSI cases were reported in America in 2020. There was a fifty-three percent increase when compared to the previous year.

Central-line (central venous catheter) is a tube placed in the big vein in the neck, chest, or groin by the physicians in order to provide fluids, and medicines, to draw blood samples for laboratory tests, or to calculate the total amount of fluids in the body. The intravenous (IV) catheters and central line catheters are not the same. The centerline catheters are normally used in the ICUs, and they would be placed for many months. And this long-term use of the catheter makes it more prone to infections.

The microorganisms will enter through the centerline to the blood vessels. Failure in the safe insertion procedures, not giving proper care in dressing the insertion site, and insufficient staffing ratios can be the reasons for CLABSI. Enterobacter species, Candida/yeast, Staphylococcus species (except S. aureus), Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella species, Escherichia coli, and Enterococcus faecium are the CLABSI causing pathogens.

Fever, chills, tenderness at the insertion site, positive blood culture, low blood pressure, and slow heart rate can be the common symptoms of CLABSI. Newborns may confront hypothermia, fever, breathing difficulties, and a slower heart rate. Oxygen therapy, intravenous antibiotic administration, and close monitoring of progress can prevent centerline infections.

Surgical Site Infections (SSI)

In the United States, between 160,000 and 300,000 surgical site infections are reported each year. The surgical site is where SSI infections occur. Around 3% of those who had the surgeries are at risk of developing SSI. It is the second most common hospital infection, accounting for 8% of all hospital-acquired infection deaths.

Germs in the surgery room, non-sterile surgical tools, unclean surgeon hands, germs in other parts of the body, or germs in the air can all infect patients. Surgical site infections are classified into three categories. The superficial incisional SSI causes pus to develop on the skin’s surface at the incision site. The deep incisional SSI causes pus to form on the surface as well as deep into the wound’s muscles and tissues. When catheters are put for fluid drain inside the organs, the organ or space SSI can occur on the skin’s surface, muscles, or in the organs or space between the organs.

The abscess or pus can be seen on an X-ray when the incision is reopened. SSIs can be identified by tissue disintegration and greenish-yellow pus leaking via the drain line. Organ damage can be avoided by keeping wounds clean and free of infection. Longer surgical operations, cancer, diabetes, being overweight, and having a weakened immune system are all risk factors for these infections.

In order to treat and prevent surgical site infections, it is necessary to be in a clean environment, healthcare professionals maintain hygiene, give proper care to the incision site, and administer antibiotics.

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP)

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia is a microbial infection caused by mechanical ventilation that results in a serious lung infection such as pneumonia. After two days of endotracheal intubation, it may develop. A ventilator is a machine that helps people breathe easier. A tube will be put into the patient’s nose, mouth, or incision at the front of the neck. The bacteria will enter the lungs through the ventilator tube if the ventilator is infected.

VAP is the major cause of mortality and morbidity in intensive care patients while on the ventilator. The VAP affects 10% of surgical ICU patients and other long-term ill patients. Every year, around 300,000 VAP cases are reported in the United States.

Gram-positive cocci, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Gram-negative bacilli, such as Escherichia coli, Hemophilus influenzae, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Acinetobacter, are the bacteria that cause VAP. It’s one of the most dangerous illnesses that can happen in the ICU. VAP infection is more common in elderly persons with asthma and pulmonary diseases.

Fever, a rise in WBC count (leukocytosis), tracheobronchial secretions with abscess, and increased breathing rate are all signs of VAP in ventilator patients. To treat VAP, antibiotic medication can be used. The personnel who work with ventilator patients must maintain a high level of hygiene. To avoid infections, use caution when feeding through a nasogastric tube and subglottic suctioning.

Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP)

The most common cause of ICU-related HAI is hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was the leading cause of all HAP. It may appear within two to three days of being admitted to intensive care. Microorganisms in the airways and oropharynx cause this nosocomial pneumonia through microaspiration. Extreme infections can turn out to be fatal.

HAP can be caused by a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit (ICU), a weakened immune system, chronic sickness, or a prolonged hospital stay. Non-sterile medical equipment, unsanitary clothes, as well as the unsterile hands of health professionals can transfer illness to already vulnerable patients. The use of gloves, hospital gowns, sterile devices, and frequent hand washing by healthcare staff and patients can help avoid HAP.

Bronchoalveolar lavage, endotracheal suctioning, expectorated sputum, and various blood cultures can be used to assist diagnose HAP. HAP, like VAP, can be treated with antibiotics. The duration of the treatment will vary depending on the level of immunity.

Clostridium Difficile Infections (CDI)

Antibiotics are drugs that are used to cure ailments. Can you believe that antibiotics can trigger potentially fatal infections? Clostridium Difficile Infection (CDI) is one example of such an infection. It is a serious kind of diarrhea that arises as a side effect of antibiotic use. This, like other hospital-acquired infections, affects the elderly and patients with weakened immune systems who have been hospitalized in hospitals for an extended period of time. The bacterium Clostridioides difficile causes CDI.

Consistent watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, stomach pain, and fever are all signs of CDI. It is also a contagious disease that killed over 12,000 individuals in 2017 and infected over 224,000 people in the United States. CDI sums up 25 percent of all antibiotic-related stomach illnesses.

In order to diagnose a CDI, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and toxigenic fecal culture will be used. Patients’ conditions can be improved by discontinuing the antibiotics that triggered the illness. Antibiotics such as Vancomycin or Fidaxomicin can be given to treat the infection.

Disinfecting hospital rooms, ICUs, and other sections of the facility and maintaining hand hygiene by washing hands on a regular basis can help avoid CDIs. To prevent illness from spreading to others, the healthcare staff should use PPE and gloves individually for each patient and dispose of them safely.

Septic Shock

Sepsis can be caused by infections such as CAUTI, CLABSI, SSI, HAP, VAP, and CDI. Sepsis is your body’s hypersensitive reaction to infections and illnesses. The fluids produced by the immune system to reduce the infections sometimes have a negative effect and cause inflammations. Sepsis can be caused by infections in the urinary tract, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, or skin. When sepsis is severe, blood pressure might drop, resulting in inadequate blood flow to the various organs. The lack of blood supply accelerates a dangerous decrease in tissue perfusion and organ failure. This is known as septic shock, and it may result in death.

Septic shock claimed the lives of almost thirty percent of individuals in hospitals and forty-five percent of people in ICUs with sepsis in 2020. Patients with hospital-acquired infections have a significant mortality rate. Pathogens that cause sepsis in children include Neisseria meningitis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus. Sepsis is caused by illnesses such as skin infections, bacterial rhinosinusitis, and meningitis. Other organisms that cause CAUTI, CLABSI, SSI, HAP, VAP, and CDI contribute significantly to the septic shock fatality rate.

Sepsis and septic shock symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness owing to low blood pressure, muscle pain, breathing difficulty, confusion, and slurred speech. Septic shock can be treated with antibiotics, oxygen therapy, drugs to increase blood circulation, and surgery in extreme situations.

The most common pathogens causing HAI are listed as per the the study report by the NCBI:


Can you Sue for Hospital Acquired Infections?

As we have seen in the different types of hospital-acquired infections, they occur mainly because of the unhygienic conditions in the facilities. I am not here to blame that all facilities lack cleanliness. All healthcare facilities have sanitation-related protocols to be strictly followed. They ensure the safety of their patients from being infected by the bacteria and germs outside. Sterilizing the surgical instruments, cleaning the wounds regularly to prevent infection, using gloves, masks, and PPE, and keeping the hospital premises neat and tidy are some of the preventive measures undertaken by the hospitals.

However, infections occur when the caregivers or the patient do not follow these protocols. If healthcare personnel’s negligence resulted in HAI infections, which then led to complications and death, the hospital is held accountable for the damages.

Serious offenses include failing to diagnose or treat an HAI infection, failing to diagnose and treat patients, and failing to monitor patients in the ICU and on a ventilator. These careless actions will put the facilities through the wringer when it comes to litigation.

Can you sue hospital for getting MRSA? If you have encountered an infection two or three days after admission or after being discharged from the hospital, it may be a hospital-acquired infection.

Can you sue a hospital for sepsis death? You may have had a loved one lose their life due to a healthcare-associated infection. These situations warrant medical malpractice lawsuits against the healthcare facility.

Hospital Acquired Infection Lawsuits

To bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against a healthcare facility, the plaintiffs must show that the caregivers had an obligation to provide them with a high-quality standard of care and failed to do so. They have to prove that their prolonged stay in the hospital, extended treatments, financial burden, pain and suffering, and lost workdays and income resulted from the negligence of the facility or provider.

You could file a wrongful death claim against the provider if your loved one died as a result of hospital-acquired infection. A healthcare facility and its administration may be held accountable for failing to follow infection control protocols, being late in diagnosing an infection, delivering appropriate treatment on time, and providing proper care.

It’s not easy to prove negligence in a medical malpractice case. To determine the medical errors that happened on the part of the facility, an investigation and analysis by an expert medical witness are required. The patient’s medical record at all levels should be carefully examined to understand problems in the medical care offered. Expert medical malpractice attorneys can trace down the medical records, read over expert testimonies, and look for loopholes in healthcare providers’ depositions to help your claim hold up in court.

Medical Malpractice Settlements

Let’s plow through some of the medical malpractice settlements on hospital-acquired infections. An asthmatic episode landed a middle-aged male in the hospital. Infection screenings tested negative. For a few days, he was given steroids and nebulization. He developed chest pain, dyspnea, abnormal vital signs, and left flank pain after a week. He was examined and treated for a probable heart attack. He was ventilated for another asthma exacerbation. After a few days, he passed away. He died of MRSA pneumonia, according to the evidence. The hospital was sued because the physician failed to diagnose MRSA and misdiagnosed it as a heart attack. For the negligence that resulted in his untimely death, the jury awarded more than $17 million.

Shoulder surgery was performed on a woman. She developed an infection, and her hospitalization was extended. After about a week, she began to have severe shoulder pain and pus leakage from the operation site. The staff failed to provide enough treatment, resulting in the seepage of greenish pus from the lesion. She was found to be in septic shock, which led to brain failure, and she was admitted to the emergency room. Infection and oxygen shortages produced brain damage, according to the fluid culture. Since then, the woman has been receiving lifelong help. The facility was ordered to reimburse the plaintiff $3 million for failing to detect the infection on time and failing to administer treatments.

A young woman with a urinary tract infection was taken to the hospital. Her E. coli infection was treated with antibiotics. They got an abdominal CT because the infection had not resolved, which revealed a serious issue. However, she was discharged without receiving any additional tests to determine the problem. The woman had nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea for a few days. She developed septic shock, which resulted in renal failure and death. It has been established that the caregivers failed to diagnose the antibiotic-induced CDI, worsening her condition in the hospital acquired infection lawsuit. Due to the healthcare provider’s failure to identify CDI on time, resulting in the woman’s death, the victim’s family was awarded $900,000.

Final Thoughts

Infections acquired in the healthcare setting are not uncommon in hospitals and clinics. Prompt diagnosis and adequate management can prevent hospital-acquired infections in their early stages. The main causes of hospital-acquired infections are patients’ neglect in maintaining personal hygiene, unclean conditions in and around the facility, and failures to provide a standard of care by the staff.

I hope this blog has given you some insight into how human error and unsanitary environments can increase morbidity and mortality among inpatients. Knowing the type of hospital-acquired illness that caused the casualty will help you deal with the problem more effectively.

When you run into such unfortunate moments in life, never fail to seek the abetment of a well-experienced medical malpractice attorney to pursue your claim against the wrongdoers. Since large healthcare facilities can line up expert attorneys on their side to nullify your claim, be sure to have your medical documentation intact. Seek the support of a hospital acquired infection expert witness to effectively put forward your arguments with evidence.

Know the statutes of limitations in your state for medical malpractice lawsuits and pursue the lawsuit on time. Get the aid of an expert medical witness to prove your allegations and fortify your claim. Go ahead with your hospital acquired infection lawsuit and get the claim you deserve.

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