Driving with Patients: Lessen Your Vehicle Accident Exposure

Not all claims fall neatly within the coverage parameters of general liability, professional liability, or auto liability. Many times coverage under multiple insurance policies will be triggered and determining proper coverage is not always easy.

An 81-year-old patient was being driven in a hospital transport van from the facility’s intensive outpatient program to a nursing home. During the drive back to the nursing home, the van driver was interacting with another patient in the van and was distracted from driving. The driver did not notice the traffic light ahead and hit the van brakes hard to prevent running a red light. As a result, the 81-year-old patient and her wheelchair were thrown to the floor of the van. During a post-incident inspection, the vehicle driver realized that the wheelchair was not properly secured at the time of the accident.

The facility immediately notified their commercial auto carrier regarding the incident. The carrier reviewed and accepted coverage up to the $1 million commercial auto policy limits. Several months later, the commercial auto carrier notified the facility that the claimant’s attorney reported the claimant’s medical costs to be in excess of $170,000 due to multiple leg fractures and related medical expenses. A settlement demand was made in excess of the $1 million auto policy limit. The facility then notified the Trust Fund for excess auto coverage.

The plaintiff's attorney argued that, in addition to the excess auto coverage, the facility’s general liability coverage should also apply due to a non-clinical employee’s failure to properly secure the wheelchair. The Trust Fund responded that the alleged failure of a healthcare facility to properly secure a wheelchair in a van during transport that resulted in a patient injury would fall under professional liability coverage.

Since liability was not in question and damages were not significantly above the $1,000,000 auto limits, a compromise was reached and the claim settled.

Healthcare facilities that have ambulances and other patient transport vehicles are exposed to other risks in addition to the usual clinical risks. Patients have to be lifted, loaded and secured as well as having their clinical needs addressed.

Drivers should be qualified to perform these functions and trained on proper techniques. In this case, a comprehensive driver training program could have helped the facility reduce its risk of unsafe driving by training drivers on the best practices for handling patients and securing wheelchairs/patients. Please consider the following best practices in order to create a comprehensive safe driver program for your facility:

  • Screen all drivers during the pre-employment process according to the driver qualifications established by your facility.
  • Request Motor Vehicle Reports at the time of hire and request updated reports every 3 years.
  • Conduct background checks at the time of hire.
  • Establish a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy.
  • Require all drivers to complete a defensive driving course conducted during the onboarding process. Provide refresher training each year.
  • Require all drivers to complete aggressive behavior management training (such as MOAB) with opportunities for refresher courses.
  • Train drivers in the proper use of vehicle auxiliary functions such as lift gates and wheelchair locks.
  • Create a vehicle preventative maintenance program.
  • Establish a cell phone policy prohibiting use or requiring the use of a hands-free device.
  • Require a vehicle inspection before each use of the vehicle.
  • Formalize your facility’s incident investigation program.

Would you like assistance with setting up a van driver training program for your facility? Have questions about the other best practices listed in this newsletter? LHA Trust Funds can help. Please contact Jesse Eusay at (225) 368-3840 or at jesseeusay@lhatrustfunds.com for more information.

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