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Arizona court rules hospitals liable for vulnerable adult abuse

On June 30, Arizona's Supreme Court unanimously ruled that hospitals and nursing homes can be found liable for abuse of vulnerable adults. The ruling involves two cases of alleged neglect in two separate Arizona hospitals. In both cases, the patient died and the suit was filed by family members who said the care that the deceased party received was in violation of the Adult Protective Services Act.

The APSA, enacted in 1989, is intended to keep vulnerable adults from being abused and neglected. According to Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, this neglect can occur anywhere, including hospitals. The hospital attorneys raised the argument that the APSA was directed solely toward establishments that provide care such as nursing homes, but the court stated there was nothing in the statute to establish this.  

Arizona's high court spoke to the definition of care in the APSA since the hospitals said they provide treatment rather than care in their argument. The chief justice expanded on what care means, saying it covered the responsibility, supervision and management duties that facilities have. She stated that this defined what hospitals do. If the court had ruled differently, it may have also exempted hospitals from reporting complaints of abuse against patients.

The attorney representing one of the families said the ruling opens up the concept of pain and suffering endured by the decedent. It also means that the award a jury hands down may be higher.

Hospital negligence may involve a lack of care specific for vulnerable individuals. If a hospitalized individual dies and abuse was involved in their care, their family members may file a lawsuit against the hospital for negligence. They may also include an abuse complaint. An attorney may review hospital records and offer insight and assistance in this process.

Source:, "Arizona justices: Hospitals can be sued on behalf of vulnerable adults", Howard Fischer, June 30, 2014

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