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How Do I Deal When an Angry Patient Threatens to Sue?


Some people are naturally combative. As hard as you may try, you can’t always get away from these folks. The Internet is a veritable breeding ground for these people.
Unfortunately, you may encounter a hostile patient from time to time. As physically incapacitated as some of these hostile people might be, there is one weapon in their arsenal that doesn’t rely on physical prowess: the threat of litigation.

So what do you do when someone threatens to bring the law down upon you?

1. As irrational and ill-mannered as the patient may become, you must remain professional. The patient may be trying to provoke you. Don’t let him. Any irrational behavior on your part could be held against you if court proceedings ensue.

2. Document the patient’s behavior in ferocious detail. Your hospital or company will more than likely have a protocol for this sort of thing. Be sure to follow the protocol precisely, and in return, you will protect yourself, and the hospital should back you if the case is brought to court.

3. Be objective in your charting. Avoid forming opinions on the patient and stick strictly to the facts, and even quote the patient if need be. The less subjective and more objective you are as a caregiver, the better outcome you will have in a legal sense.

4. If the patient becomes increasingly agitated, call a witness.

5. Talk to an administrator afterward. Talk to a superior so you have more than one person involved to defend you in case of a lawsuit.

6. Consult with legal counsel: If you receive a serious threat of litigation, it’s important to seek advice from a qualified attorney. They can guide you through the legal implications and help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

7. Maintain open lines of communication: Keep your supervisor or manager informed about the situation from the beginning. Regularly update them on any developments or incidents related to the hostile patient. This will ensure that they are aware of the circumstances and can provide necessary support if needed.

8. Preserve evidence: If there are any physical or written evidence related to the patient’s behavior or threats, make sure to preserve it appropriately. This may include saving emails, text messages, voicemails, or any other relevant documentation that can serve as evidence in the future.

9. Seek witness statements: If there were witnesses present during any incidents with the hostile patient, consider obtaining their statements. Witnesses can provide independent accounts of events and serve as valuable support in case legal proceedings arise.

10. Follow institutional protocols: Familiarize yourself with the specific protocols and procedures established by your hospital or organization to handle difficult patients or potential legal issues. Adhere to these guidelines meticulously to demonstrate that you acted in accordance with established standards.

There are some people who are very prone to threatening lawsuits, especially in the hospital setting where lives are at stake. These people are often easy to pick out, and nurses should take extra precautions about what they say and do around these patients and their families. You may do everything to the book, but out of frustration, the patient may seek to find some misdoing that justifies a lawsuit in his eyes. Protect yourself.


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