Could Negligent Drug Treatment Centers Be Held Liable for Causing Harm to Patients?A Human Rights Watch report highlighted abuses in medical facilities, juvenile detention centers, orphanages and drug treatment centers. Although this report focused on egregious acts throughout the world, there are some facilities in the United States where patients are treated negligently or abusively, oftentimes with serious or fatal consequences. In Orange County, California, several lawsuits have been filed against a drug rehabilitation organization, and the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs recently suspended its licenses with the intention of revoking them.
“Treatment facilities and their staff are obligated to provide their patients with a level of care consistent with the standards outlined by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs,” said Orange County injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Recently, the Orange County Register reported that the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs ordered the drug treatment provider Morningside Recovery to close its residential facilities due to the careless administration of prescription drugs. The Department also found that the organization had operated beyond the scope of its licenses. Not only was Morningside ignoring state laws differentiating sober living homes from medical facilities, it was also over-, under-, and erratically providing prescription medications to patients.
If the national epidemic of fatal prescription drug overdose is any indication of the power of these drugs and the allegations against Morningside are true, the treatment provider not only acted egregiously but also jeopardized the safety of its patients. Such practices could potentially have subjected the organization to legal actions had any of its patients suffered harm or died.
Drug treatment facilities, like all medical facilities in the state of California, owe a duty of care to their patients. The care they provide to patients must be up to a reasonably professional standard as compared to what a normal, average drug treatment center would provide. The individual members of the staff at the treatment center also must provide a professional level of care commensurate with their experiences.
When a drug rehab facility is understaffed, does not properly conduct pre-employment checks on their staff, or does not ensure that the policies they have in place provide sufficient protections to the patients, this can be considered medical malpractice or medical negligence. The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs has established “Best Practices" and "Treatment Standards" for rehabilitation facilities and governs more than 850 public and private treatment facilities within California. Unless a facility is in compliance with these practices and standards, ADP cannot license it. These standards can be used to help determine whether the drug rehab facility in question fell below accepted standards of care.
Individual doctors or medical health professionals who fail in their own duty of care may also be considered liable for medical negligence and subject to a malpractice suit. In addition, under vicarious liability laws that stipulate that doctors and employees are "agents" acting on behalf of the drug rehab center, the drug rehab center may also be held liable for "imputed" negligence. This essentially means that when a staff member is negligent in fulfilling a duty to the patient, the drug rehab center is considered to be personally liable (and thus financially responsible) for the negligence of the employee they hired.
Through these different legal theories, drug rehabilitation centers in California and throughout the U.S. can be held accountable for the injury they cause to patients through their failure to provide a minimally accepted level of care.
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