Hospital Liability for C.diff Infection

C.diff is a type of hospital acquired infection that can lead to legal claims against the medical provider.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

Patients who develop a C.diff infection during a hospital stay may be wondering if they have a legitimate legal case against the hospital. This article discusses C.diff and its symptoms, and what to expect if you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital.

C.diff and Its Symptoms

C.diff is the common term used for an intestinal infection caused by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile. Some people already carry the C.diff bacterium inside their intestines, but at levels that rarely create any issues.

Problems can arise when someone checks into a hospital. If they don't already have C.diff, they run the risk of contracting it. If they already have C.diff or contract it at the hospital and have a weakened immune system, they may begin to suffer C.diff symptoms. Additionally, some types of antibiotics may cause an imbalance that leads to a hospital patient's C.diff outbreak.

While not as common a hospital acquired infection as MRSA, cases of C.diff infection have been on the rise. The C.diff spore is in the feces of those who are infected and can survive for long periods of time. It is typically transferred on the hands of those in the hospital, including hospital employees and doctors.

C.diff symptoms range from mild to severe, and may include diarrhea and stomach cramping, fever, nausea, dehydration, intestinal bleeding, colon paralysis, and/or a hole in the colon that requires removal of the entire colon.

Do You Have a Case Against the Hospital?

Simply because you contracted C.diff during your hospital stay does not mean you have a winning case for medical negligence.

You must prove that the hospital staff failed to follow minimum safety precautions to prevent transferring the C.diff spores. For example, if the staff knew or should have known that one or more patients were already infected, but failed to wash their hands with soap and water, you may have a case. This is because the C.diff spores are not eliminated by alcohol based cleaners.

As another example, you may be able to successfully sue the hospital if the staff did not adequately clean the room or rooms of patients with C.diff infections -- only bleach eliminates the spores from surfaces. In other words, you might have a case against the hospital if you can show that your C.diff infection was most likely the result of inadequate safety protocols or a failure of staff to follow the protocols.

What Does a Lawsuit Involve?

Because a C.diff lawsuit involves questions of healthcare, you may be limited by procedural rules and requirements that apply to medical malpractice cases, including:

  • A short deadline ("statute of limitation") to start your case.
  • Pre-suit requirements like screening panels, advance notice of the lawsuit to the hospital, mandatory settlement negotiations and "expert affidavits."
  • Expert witnesses experienced in the particular field of health care must testify on behalf of either party (in a C.diff case, the expert would need to opine on whether the proper safety protocols were in place and/or followed).
  • The total amount a plaintiff can recover from a health care provider might be limited by a "damage cap."

Cases Against the Hospital Vs. Cases Against a Doctor

Your case may involve allegations that your doctor was negligent in not testing for, identifying, or properly treating your C.diff infection. But it is important to know that a doctor is typically not a hospital employee, which means you cannot sue the hospital if your case is only about the doctor's negligence. However, depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to sue the hospital for failing to prevent the infection and the doctor for failing to diagnose and/or treat it.

See an Expert

Medical malpractice is a complicated legal field with a lot of hurdles and uncertainties. If you think that your C.diff infection was the result of the hospital's inadequate safety precautions or a doctor's negligence, then you should consult with an experienced plaintiff's medical malpractice attorney.

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