Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (5)3 Mar 97


   Quick Summary: The shower in the bathroom for the room where a non-handicapped patient was placed had been retrofitted with a metal ramp for wheelchair access.

   The patient was physically debilitated from chemotherapy and was using a cane and walker for ambulation. She was not in a wheelchair.

   The patient tripped and fell on the ramp getting out of the shower, and broke her arm. The hospital was ruled liable to pay substantial damages for negligence. COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, 1996.


   The hospital could have enlarged the bathroom so that the floor could be very gradually sloped up to the shower, or lowered base of the shower to the same level as the floor, costly options to satisfy the hospital’s obligation to make a certain number of its rooms wheelchair-accessible, compared to the simple aluminum shower ramp it installed.

   At the very least, according to the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, the hospital should not have arbitrarily assigned this patient to a room with a bathroom that had been retrofitted for wheelchair access. The patient was very weak and unsteady from chemotherapy and was using a cane and walker. Someone should have known that the wheelchair ramp posed a significant hazard to this patient.

   The lower court ruled for the hospital based on engineering data that the retrofit met minimum national standards for wheelchair access. The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, however, ruled the lower court had missed the point, as it was not a wheelchair patient who was injured and had sued, and awarded the patient substantial damages from the hospital.

   The real issue in the case, the appeals court ruled, was that a healthcare facility must consider each patient’s individual needs, based on a careful assessment of each patient’s personal condition. This patient should not have been given a room with wheelchair modifications, even if it was appropriate for wheelchair access, as the modifications posed a special risk of injury to this particular patient. Delaune vs. Medical Center of Baton Rouge, Inc., 683 So. 2d 859 (La. App., 1996).