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New legal impact of a loss of generator power due to flooding

Posted Feb 08 2010 2:03am

If you have a generator in your hospital basement or your facility is located in any part of a flood zone, you need to be concerned about some recent legal activity.  It involved the old Methodist Hospital in New Orleans that lost power when its basement flooded after the breaks in the levees during Hurricane Katrina.  The power failure may have, in part, lead to death of a newly ventilated patient.

The Louisiana Supreme Court decided that the family could seek damages under general liability rather than limiting the suit to medical malpractice, which is capped at $500,000 in the State.  It seems there may now be a settlement, but there is a warning here for hospitals. 

To me, it comes down to the question, is your generator located in an area with the potential for failure in a flood, or other, scenario.  If so, you risk of exposure to general liability suits if during a disaster your generator fails - for any reason.  I fear this is moving us toward fail-proof disaster preparedness and wonder who will pay the cost to move all of the generators located in areas at risk for flooding.  And, for a big hospital, are they light enough to be placed on the roof.  The last new one I saw was a monster and I would fear it being on the roof, especially in places like California and other earthquake zones.

I'm torn.  We strive to be prepared, and often times do our best while juggling multiple jobs (COO, Risk Manager, & Safety Officer).  Now, we may have to be PERFECT and where will we get the money.  The designs of new hospitals can take into consideration our lessons learned.  But, older hospitals will need to balance this risk with all of their other capital needs.

So, if there is any risk for flooding due to significant rainfall, a water main break, levee break, overflowing rivers or streams, or a tsunami then be prepared to have general liability claims filed in addition to medical malpractice.  I'm afraid the bar is being raised.

I wonder what would have happened if they simply ran out of fuel.  Would we instead be talking of the expectation that hospitals have even larger underground/above-ground storage of fuel in case of an event like Katrina. (I wouldn't want to live or work in that neighborhood)  Lets draw a reasonable line; please!

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