Healthcare Whistleblowers | Patient Safety Is Paramount
When it comes to the medical profession, the state of California takes patient safety very seriously. This attitude is illustrated not only with malpractice and mandatory reporting laws, but also with the legal protections provided to healthcare whistleblowers — this who stand up for patients that can’t stand up for themselves. This page was designed to offer some general information on whistleblowing in healthcare, as well as nurse whistleblowers and patient safety. It was also aimed at helping those who might be on the fence make a decision about contacting an attorney. The following topics are covered on this page:
- Whistleblower basics
- Whistleblowing in healthcare
- What Can I Recover in a healthcare whistleblowers suit?
- What is the Statute of Limitations in healthcare whistleblowers cases?
- Should I Contact an Attorney?
While this page discusses certain concepts related to employment law, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with a employment law firm. Because of the subtlety and complexity of employment law, no law firm information page could even begin to cover all the bases. If you are a healthcare whistleblower in California you shouldn’t hesitate to contact our firm.
Whistleblowing in Healthcare
California specifically protects nurse, doctors, and other healthcare workers concerned with patient safety. This powerful law is found in the Health and Safety Code §1278.5. The state legislature encourages “patients, nurses, members of the medical staff, and other health care workers to notify government entities of suspected unsafe patient care and conditions.” California law takes whistleblowing in healthcare seriously.
Subsection (b)(1) of this law makes it illegal for a health facility to discriminate or retaliate in “any manner, against any patient, employee, member of the health care staff or any other health care worker” because that person complained about patient care or participated in an investigation related to the quality of care, service or conditions at the facility. Simply put, an employer cannot fire, demote, harass, or intimidate a nurse whistleblower or other healthcare worker for engaging in whistleblowing activities.
The law is strengthened by subsection (d)(1), which creates a “rebuttal presumption.” This means in discrimination whistleblower cases the court begins with a presumption that the discriminatory act took place until it can be proven otherwise. An example of a rebuttal presumption might involve a nurse who complained to hospital management that patients were being denied certain medications necessary to control blood pressure and was demoted, then fired as a result. If the nurse took the hospital to court under a whistleblower claim, it would be incumbent on the hospital to prove that it did not retaliate against the nurse.
If you are one of many of the state’s nurse whistleblowers, a patient or healthcare worker who voiced complaints to a supervisor, or government official, about patient safety and were harassed, demoted, terminated or treated unfairly as a result, contact our employment attorney to see if we can help.
What Can I Recover in a Patient Safety Whistleblower Suit?
This is a difficult question to answer since many cases settle and settlements are kept confidential. However, generally speaking, whistleblowing victims in healthcare cases can recover lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damage.
For instance, if you earned $50,000 annually at the time you were fired for blowing the whistle on unsafe hospital practices, you could potentially recover $50,000 for every year you were unable to find employment (or the difference between what you were earning and the pay of your new job). These would be your economic damages, or lost wages.
In addition, nurse whistleblowers can recover emotional stress damages as a result of depression, anxiety, and physical pain stemming from the retaliation. In some rare cases, whistleblowers can recover punitive damages. However, in order to do this, the whistleblowers legal team must convince a jury that the employer acted with fraud, malice or oppression. This is difficult to do.
Click here to read about a psychologist at Napa State Hospital who blew the whistle on her employer about the care given to mentally ill patients and won $1 million.
What is the Statute of Limitations in Healthcare Cases?
The amount of time a whistleblower has to file a case varies depending on circumstances. In some cases, if for instance you are suing for civil penalties, the amount of time allotted to file is only a year. In other cases, such as if you are filing a lawsuit under Health and Safety Code §1278.5, an employee has up to three years from the date of the retaliation or harassment to file suit. It’s important that you discuss your options with an attorney as soon as possible. If the statute of limitations runs out, your case could be lost forever.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
If you are one of the state’s many healthcare whistleblowers and were retaliated against as a result of your activities, and now you intend to sue your employer, you are not required to obtain the services of an employment lawyer. However, rest assured, your employer will have an attorney, and perhaps even multiple attorneys. It’s important to remember that employment law is subtle and complex. You will need someone who is emotionally distant from the events of case, but who is familiar with the judicial system. If you have questions about whistleblowing in healthcare or the laws pertaining to patient safety, contact our office to see how we can help.
Need to know more about other areas of whistleblower law? To learn about the Sarbanes-oxley whistleblower law (SOX) visit this page here. People who complain about unsafe working environments and are retaliated against may have an OSHA whistleblower case. Learn more about OSHA whistleblower cases on this page. Sometimes, employers ask employees to violate the law. Most people just do what their employe says, but some don’t and report that their employer is asking them to break the law. This is a type of whistleblower case.