A number of recent lawsuits targeting the Montana State Hospital have brought significant issues in patient care and safety to light. These cases, characterized by preventable falls, health deterioration, and inadequate supervision, highlight critical issues in patient care and safety.
In Montana, you are entitled to safe and competent care. If these standards are not met, there are legal avenues available to seek justice and accountability.
Patient rights in Montana hospitals
In Montana, the legal framework governing patient care is rooted in the Patient Bill of Rights, which was signed into law on May 18, 2023.
The Patient Bill of Rights, established by Montana's HB 376, outlines a comprehensive array of rights available to all patients, including:
- Dignified and respectful treatment: Patients have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Information on diagnosis and treatment: Patients have a right to obtain relevant and understandable information about their diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.
- Informed consent: Patients are entitled to be informed about specific procedures and treatments, including risks, recuperation time, and alternatives.
- Financial implications of treatment: Patients should be informed about the immediate and long-term financial implications of treatment choices.
- Decision-making in care: Patients have the right to make decisions about their care, refuse treatments, and be informed of medical consequences.
- Advocate or support person: Patients have the right to have a support person present.
- Privacy considerations: Every consideration for the patient's privacy should be given.
- Access to medical records: Patients have the right to review their medical records.
- Appropriate and medically indicated care: Hospitals should respond to patient requests for appropriate care and services.
- Transfer to another facility: When medically appropriate and legally permissible or on request of the patient, the patient may be transferred to another facility that has accepted the patient for transfer.
- Disclosure of business relationships: Patients should be informed about business relationships that may influence their care.
- Continuity of care: Patients have the right to expect continuity of care and care coordination.
- Resources for resolving disputes: Patients should be informed of resources available for resolving disputes, grievances, and conflicts.
In addition to the Patient Bill of Rights, patient care and hospital operations are subject to state and federal laws. For instance, at the federal level, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides patients with rights related to the privacy of their health information. At the state level, Montana’s legal system, including established judicial precedents and specific healthcare regulations, further clarifies the rights of patients and the responsibilities of hospitals.
Filing a lawsuit against a Montana hospital
Every patient in Montana is entitled to a standard of care that safeguards their health and dignity. When a hospital fails to meet these standards, it may be liable for any resulting harm.
Unfortunately, patients typically face a number of obstacles when filing a lawsuit against a healthcare system. These may include:
- Identifying the responsible party: Determining who is liable, whether it’s the hospital, individual healthcare providers, or someone else, can be complicated. An experienced personal injury attorney can help identify all the potentially liable parties.
- Medical expert testimony: In order to establish a breach of the standard of care, it’s typically necessary to obtain testimony from medical experts who can attest to the standard of care and how it was breached.
- Proving causation: Demonstrating a direct link between the hospital’s breach of duty and the injury sustained can be challenging, particularly when the patient has a pre-existing condition. Establishing causation involves gathering, developing, and explaining complicated medical evidence, including detailed medical records, expert testimony, diagnostic tests, imaging results, and a thorough timeline of events.
- Statute of limitations: There are time limits for filing a lawsuit, and navigating these deadlines is absolutely crucial to ensure your lawsuit isn’t dismissed.
The Montana State Hospital lawsuit: A case study
A federal lawsuit against the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs has been initiated by the families of two deceased patients, Lucio DiMauro and David Patzoldt, and a living patient, Lesley Jungers. The suit alleges negligence and constitutional rights violations, citing instances such as repeated falls, deteriorating health, and inadequate supervision. The plaintiffs argue that systemic issues like understaffing and facility disrepair under both current and previous state administrations contributed to these failings.
The lawsuit names various state officials and entities as defendants, including Montana Governor Greg Gianforte. The legal action seeks to address not only specific patient harm but also systemic shortcomings in staffing, facility conditions, and overall patient care management.
“The Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs has been neglected by the Montana Legislature and governors for decades,” the lawsuit states. “Due to neglect from the top, the facility itself has run into disrepair, is unsafe for its residents, and is egregiously understaffed, with the not-surprising result being that Montanans with: (1) serious mental health problems and (2) lack of financial means are systematically abused and neglected. This case is about Montanans who suffered at Warm Springs because of the neglect of those in power.”
Currently, the lawsuit is progressing through the legal system, with the state yet to respond formally.
Protecting your rights
The ongoing legal battles against the Montana State Hospital serve as a powerful reminder of the challenges and importance of holding healthcare institutions accountable. Understanding your rights and the complexities of filing a personal injury lawsuit is essential for seeking justice and compensation for any harm experienced in a hospital setting.
If you or someone close to you has suffered harm, it’s important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney promptly to explore your legal options.