When a Patient Attacks a Nurse

Posted on April 06, 2020

When a patient attacks a nurse, the nurse can hold the hospital where the attack occurred, the patient, and any other party that may have contributed to his or her injury liable. Patient violence is one of the most significant threats that nurses face at the workplace in Chicago and nationwide. A nurse who has sustained injuries and losses from an on-the-job attack can seek compensation for the damages suffered.

Statistics for Nurses Getting Attacked

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), healthcare workers face an increased risk of workplace violence. Nurses, in particular, have long been victims of attacks from patients, frequently due to their direct contact with the patients and the large variety of tasks they do for them. Due to the frequency of the violence, there has been a cultural assumption that attacks are part of the job, with healthcare professionals even having code names for them.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that from 2011 to 2018, incidences of violence-related injuries among healthcare workers increased by 67%, from 6.4 to 10.7 per 10,000 full-time workers. The likelihood of experiencing workplace injuries was five times higher for healthcare and social service workers than all other workers in 2018.

In a 2014 survey, 21% of nursing students and registered nurses claimed to have been physically assaulted over a 12-month period. More than 50% reported to have been verbally abused. A 2009 to 2011 survey of 7,169 nurses found 19% of emergency department nurses to have faced physical violence. A 2013 survey involving 762 nurses found that 579 participants, or 76% of the participants, had experienced verbal or physical workplace violence over the past year.

In a survey of over 15,000 registered nurses conducted by National Nurses United in late 2020, 20% of the respondents claimed to have experienced increased workplace violence. In a 2022 American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) poll, 79% of the respondents said they had witnessed another healthcare worker being assaulted, as opposed to 71% in 2018.

Press Ganey — a healthcare company that helps other healthcare-based organizations improve patient safety and experience — recently published some eye-opening nurse violence statistics. The company analyzed findings from 483 facilities from its U.S.-based national database. According to the results, there were 5,217 assaults from April to June 2022 in the included facilities, translating to 1,739 monthly attacks, about 57 assaults per day, and two nurses being attacked per hour.

The analysis established that patients initiate the most attacks. Family members, visitors, intruders, and coworkers also attack nurses. Most of the attackers are male, except in pediatric and rehab units, where females are more likely to attack nurses. The analysis also unveiled that most nurse assaults occur in emergency departments, psychiatric units, and pediatric units.

The frequency and severity of violent attacks on nurses have risen substantially in recent years. The rise has been attributed to factors like higher healthcare costs that add to the anger and stress that patients and their families experience, inadequate staffing, lack of adequate mental health services, and the opioid epidemic.

On-the-job injuries have largely been underreported. One medical center found that 50% of physical and verbal assaults against nurses by patients weren’t reported in writing. A Minnesota survey found that only 71% of non-physical assaults and 69% of physical assaults were reported to managers.

Some acts of physical violence that nurses have reported facing in surveys, in addition to acts of verbal abuse, include:

  • Choking or strangling
  • Shoving, grabbing, pulling, or throwing
  • Punching, slapping, hitting, or kicking
  • Throwing objects
  • Hair pulling
  • Biting

Examples of Workplace Violence for Nurses in Illinois

A number of workplace violence cases against nurses in Illinois have hit the headlines. In July 2019, a nursing home patient hit a nurse with a plastic soap bottle and repeatedly smashed her head into the door frame. The patient had a history of aggravated battery and aggressive behavior. Consequently, the Illinois Department of Public Health fined the nursing home. In 2020, a 31-year-old nurse who was still wearing her scrubs and was heading home after completing her shift was punched in the face by a man on a CTA bus.

In another case, a woman who didn’t want to be identified by her real name for fear of backlash from future healthcare employers had worked as a nurse’s aide for four years at the Springfield Memorial Hospital. She chose to resign after completing her registered nurse training, partly due to the increased threats and attacks against hospital staff she had experienced firsthand and witnessed at the facility. At one point, she had to escape before being pinned to the ground and dodge a chair that had been swung at her.

In 2021, a 6-foot-3 and 196-pound man attacked a petite-size 46-year-old nurse at the state-run Elgin Mental Health Center. The man severely beat the nurse, leaving her with life-threatening injuries on her skull, face, and upper body.

Who Can Be Held Liable After an Attack in Chicago?

When a patient harms a nurse accidentally or intentionally, it’s crucial for the nurse to know who can be held liable. With many assaults being unreported, knowing who and what can be pursued can help more nurses come forward to recover compensation after suffering significant injuries and help protect themselves and others. When a patient attacks a nurse, the nurse may have one or more entities or individuals to sue. Here’s more on the common liable parties.

The Healthcare Facility

Hospitals and clinics can be liable for attacks against nurses for several reasons. For instance, a facility could face liability if it knew of the danger that a patient posed but didn’t do anything to prevent it.

Healthcare employers in Illinois are required to have workplace violence prevention programs in place. As a result, a hospital or clinic in Chicago could be held liable if it doesn’t have proper safety protocols to prevent such attacks. Sometimes, a hospital may breach its duty of care toward a nurse by giving the nurse too many patients. In such circumstances, it becomes harder to protect patients and hospital staff from risks like assault. The hospital may, therefore, become liable if a nurse is attacked in such a situation.

In case workplace violence occurs, healthcare employers are supposed to provide prompt post-incident services to the involved workers. If the facility doesn’t make any attempt to resolve the issue, that could give you a strong claim for compensation.

Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation laws cover most employees in Illinois, including nurses. These attacks typically happen in the course of a nurse’s employment and, therefore, qualify for workers’ compensation. Even the nurses who weren’t assaulted but witnessed the event can qualify for workers’ compensation. The constant trauma of witnessing colleagues being attacked and working in fear of these attacks can make nurses get post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A legal option available to them is obtaining workers’ comp for PTSD from work.

A workers’ compensation claim may seem like a straightforward process. However, many workers experience challenges applying for or getting the full benefits to which they’re entitled. Workers’ compensation insurers can claim that the injuries weren’t work-related and deny even valid claims. Video surveillance captures of the attack, photos, and witness statements help strengthen your claim. A workers’ compensation lawyer can help you gather critical details to support your claim.

A workers’ compensation lawyer will guide you on the best steps to take to receive the maximum possible compensation for your injuries. He or she can negotiate a favorable settlement on your behalf. A lawyer can handle the appeal process if you have already applied for workers’ compensation benefits but had your claim denied.

The Patient

While state law may hinder nurses from filing a lawsuit against their healthcare employers, nurses can file a third-party personal injury lawsuit against any other party that contributed to their injuries. Fortunately, they can consider filing a workers’ comp claim and injury lawsuit simultaneously. If a patient or family member of the patient attacked you, you can hold them liable through a personal injury claim.

You can get more money from personal injury lawsuits than workers’ compensation benefits. That’s because personal injury lawsuits can cover the full value of your loss of wages and provide non-economic damages like pain and suffering. However, you’ll need to prove the defendant committed a negligent or intentionally harmful act in a manner that directly caused your injuries.

A Chicago personal injury lawyer can interview witnesses, gather evidence, build and present a strong case, or negotiate with the patient’s insurer on your behalf. Your lawyer will also help you identify any other parties who could be held responsible for your injuries and losses.

While nurses take oaths not to harm patients, they also shouldn’t allow themselves to suffer harm as part of their jobs. By exercising their right to advocate for themselves, report violent incidents, and take legal action, nurses who’ve been assaulted can play a significant part in encouraging legal and institutional reforms that will mitigate workplace violence.