I got a note this week about a trial currently underway in New Orleans that you may want to keep your eye one if your company is based in an area prone to being affected by natural disasters.

The details of the case are thus: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Althea LaCoste, a 73-year-old patient at Pendleton Methodist Hospital died after the hospital lost power, cutting off power to LaCoste’s ventilator. Although a team of Pendleton nurses hand-bagged air into LaCoste’s lungs, it wasn’t enough to save her life. LaCoste’s family alleges that Pendleton did not adequately prepare for the disaster, and therefore is liable in LaCoste’s death. The family is seeking $11.7 million in damages.

Although most experts who have weighed in so far believe the case is narrowly focused on hospitals, I’m thinking that it still could set precedent for all types of employers in disaster-prone areas. Why couldn’t an insurance firm (and/or the firm’s building manager) based in hurricane-prone Florida be named liable for an employee’s death because it lacked an evacuation plan and an employee died as a result? But like I’ve said many times before, I’m no legal expert.

What are your thoughts? Will the effects of this case be limited to hospitals? Or could other entities specifically entrusted with the care and safety of others – like schools and assisted living facilities – also be affected?  And what about the average private corporation? Does this case have you looking to dust off your disaster plan? If you’d like some tips on disaster preparedness, just in case, click here

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