Nursing Home Bed Rails May Cause Deaths

December 6, 2012

bed-rail.jpgNursing home neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn that your loved one's bed rails could be a serious cause for concern. Reports indicate that more than 100 elder adults died from injuries caused by bed rails over the last nine years. Thousands more were injured.

We would like to stress that bed rail injuries are entirely preventable. Experts say that improved designs and replacing older models could help curb the incidence of bed rail injuries.

As the New York Times recently reported, an elderly woman suffered fatal bed rail injuries after she was moved into a Washington assisted living facility. She moved into the facility about six years ago because she suffered from dementia and her husband was unable to look after her by himself.

Unfortunately, just five months into the 81-year-old's stay at the home, she was discovered dead in her room. The cause of death was strangulation that occurred when her neck got stuck in the side rails that were meant to keep her from rolling out of the bed.

Following the elderly resident's death, her daughter wrote to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission). Shockingly, she found that both agencies had actually been aware of the bed rail problem for over a decade but did little to crack down on the manufacturers of the bed rails.

The daughter researched the issue and exchanged letters with state and local officials. She was finally able to trigger a study into bed rail deaths with a letter she wrote two years back, to the federal consumer safety commission. Unfortunately, it was too late to save her mother's life.

Based on data that the consumer agency collected from hospital emergency room visits and death certificates from 2003 through May 2012, approximately 150 people (mainly older adults) passed away after getting caught in bed rails. During this same period, about 36,000 older adults were treated in emergency rooms for bed rail injuries.

There may have been even more bed rail injuries and deaths than these numbers indicate. This is due to the fact that coroners and nursing homes do not always list bed rails as a cause of death. Even emergency room doctors are not in the practice of listing bed rails as a cause of injury.

Though the FDA issued safety cautions for the items in 1995, it did not ask manufacturers to stick safety labels on them owing to a Congress preference at the time for less regulation, and industry resistance. In 2006, only voluntary directives were introduced.

Though experts believe that more warnings are required, there is confusion over which regulator is accountable for the bed rails. Are they consumer products controlled by the commission or medical devices under FDA regulation?

A former FDA official in charge of the agency's medical office suggested that if the industry was compelled to replace older models and improve existing designs, it would potentially cost the healthcare facilities and bed rail makers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Industry officials feel that while bed rails can cause injuries and death, they are still a successful way to protect fragile, older patients. They believe that significant problems arose when the rails, mattress and other parts of the bed came from different manufacturers. The difference in manufacturers caused hazardous gaps that allowed a patient to get caught between the bed rails and mattress. This led to to severe injuries and deaths nationwide.

If your loved one suffered a bed rail injury or death, contact a personal injury attorney today to fight for the compensation that you deserve. Many experts have noted that bed rail injuries are avoidable, and it is important to hold negligent manufacturers responsible in order to prevent further harm.