Tragically, an overwhelming number of caregivers, namely nurses, encounter violence on the job, especially when they’re treating people with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Recent estimates of rates of physical abuse of nurses go as high 3 in 10, according to a 2014 article in the Journal of Emergency Nursing. Another study from the CDC found that rates of violence for nurses rose between 2012 and 2014. What’s more, of the 25,000 workplace assaults that take place annually, 75 percent happen in healthcare settings, and only 30 percent of nurses report being victimized, according to The American Journal of Managed Care.
The problem has become so intense that 32 states have deemed physical assaults against nurses a felony, which can lead to more than one year in jail or prison. In a way, this is good news because it means there’s an increasing awareness of this epidemic, and if you choose to report any violence against you, you’re more likely than ever to be taken seriously.
What Can You Do If You’re Assaulted by a Patient?
File a worker’s compensation claim.
In most states, you are entitled to worker’s comp benefits if you’re injured at work by “any external cause,” writes Starr. This includes physical assault or another “form of physical contact against your person.” Benefits generally cover the cost of medical care, including psychological or psychiatric treatment if needed, missed wages up to a certain maximum, as well as compensation for permanent injury and disfigurement.
To enforce your claim to worker’s comp, Starr advises you “always submit an adverse event report and seek medical attention according to hospital policy” because you may need the documentation as proof. Filing for worker’s comp usually prevents you from taking legal action against your employer, except in rare situations.
Pursue criminal charges.
If you wish to go this route, the first step is to report the assault to any law enforcement organizations at your facility, such as hospital police or constables. They will then decide whether to involve outside agencies, such as local police. If you don’t have such an agency at your workplace, go directly to the police.
Always ask for a copy of any police/law enforcement investigation reports and make sure copies of any reports are forwarded to your employer’s HR department. Next, your attacker may or not be arrested, depending on the decision of the local prosecutorial agency, such as the district attorney.
The most likely outcome of pressing criminal charges for assault against a nurse, Scharr says, is that the prosecutor will “seek a lesser charge to secure a conviction by plea, avoiding the risks of losing the case on more serious charges at trial.”
Starr notes: “A plea agreement does not change your eligibility for worker’s compensation benefits or, importantly, your ability to exercise your third option: civil tort litigation.”
Sue the person who injured you.
In this option, you “would sue the offending party in civil court for personal injury under the common law theories of assault and battery,” which address both physical and psychological harm, Starr writes.
This requires you to hire a personal injury lawyer. The defendant will then be served with a lawsuit, and potentially respond to the lawsuit. The civil court process would continue until mediation, settlement, or trial. Keep in mind that if you receive worker’s comp for an injury and then choose to sue for that same injury, the amount of money you receive from your lawsuit may be affected by your previous claim.
According to Starr, worker’s comp is the most popular of these three options. One reason could be that employers sometimes pressure nurses not to take legal action against patients. But remember: your employer cannot prevent you from suing or pressing criminal charges without making itself legally vulnerable.