Hospital falls: When a general negligence claim slips into medical malpractice


medical; hospital; doctor

By: LaShay L. Byrd and Kyle M. Virgin

Slip and fall accidents typically manifest as general negligence claims. However, a recent Kentucky Court of Appeals decision, Boston v. Commonwealth Health Corporation, Inc., No. 2023-CA-0583-MR, 2024 WL 1335987, at *5 (Ky. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2024), has reiterated that hospital falls vary in nature and not every slip and fall constitutes a “normal” general negligence claim. Specifically, the Court in Boston distinguished general negligence claims from medical malpractice or medical negligence claims.  

Boston involved allegations that a Plaintiff tripped on a raised piece of cobblestone near the front entrance of the Defendant hospital, which caused him to fall, strike the ground, and suffer serious bodily injuries. Plaintiff received care and treatment at the Defendant hospital shortly after his fall. However, in his Complaint, Plaintiff only took issue with the injury he sustained from his fall on the hospital premises. 

Defendant moved to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s failure to comply with Kentucky’s statutory certificate of merit requirement, arguing that the statute requires a certificate of merit be filed with the complaint for any action against a physician, surgeon, dentist, or hospital for malpractice or negligence. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and noted that medical malpractice is a subject “markedly different” from premises liability negligence. 

The Court held that the Plaintiff’s alleged “slip and fall” injury stemmed not from the hospital’s care and treatment of a claimant but from a hazard on the hospital’s premises and, accordingly, was an ordinary negligence case and not a claim of medical malpractice. Consequently, Plaintiff was not required to comply with the procedural requirements for a medical malpractice action.  

It remains that a slip and fall claim can still constitute a medical malpractice claim depending on the allegations. The main distinction between the two types of claims hinges on the nature of the risk associated with a plaintiff’s allegations. When the risk originates from the defendant medical provider’s provision of medical care or involves allegations that medical staff members were negligent by failing to take reasonable steps to protect the patient, that action is one of medical malpractice or medical negligence. However, where the risk originates from a hazard on the premises, that action is one of ordinary negligence.  

Depending on the nature of the allegations, the distinction between malpractice and general negligence can greatly alter the rules of the litigation. Actions involving medical malpractice or medical negligence are complex and involve special requirements like a certificate of merit, a short limitations period, higher levels of proof, expert testimony, and other constraints that can complicate the filing and prosecuting of these actions. Many of these requirements aim to alleviate the initiation of frivolous lawsuits against medical professionals. It is important that hospitals and health care providers be particularly on alert at the outset of any claim involving patient falls on hospital premises so that they can appropriately classify the action, understand the “rules of the game,” and develop defenses accordingly.  

Please do not hesitate to contact LaShay Byrd at or your local FMG relationship partner to discuss this important opinion or for any related Tort questions.