Child Abuse: Medical Staff Should Have Recognized and Reported Abuse

February 1, 2012 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​​A North Carolina jury found a hospital liable for the injuries a young boy sustained from his mother's boyfriend because it neglected to identify that the boy was a victim of abuse during an earlier visit to the hospital's emergency department (ED) and report the incident to authorities; the boy was later beaten so severely that his skull caved in, which left him unable to speak and move his legs and one arm. A judge initially ruled in favor of the hospital, and an appeals court upheld the decision, but the plaintiff's lawyers persuaded the appeals court to review the case again. The plaintiff, the boy's father, argued that a jury, not a judge, should have been able to decide whether the hospital was liable for not reporting suspected child abuse; the appellate court then reversed its decision, granting the plaintiff a trial.

When the boy was brought to the hospital's ED in April 2003 for a broken wrist, a doctor noticed that he also had an old rib fracture. The plaintiff argued that the broken wrist, old rib fracture, and inconsistencies with the mother's explanation of how the boy was injured should have alerted medical staff that the boy was being abused. The hospital is required to report child abuse to proper authorities, but no...

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