Misidentified patient allegedly beaten, held against will

In a case that underscores the importance of one of the most basic patient safety requirements--correct patient identification--a male car crash victim allegedly was misidentified as a female cancer patient by a Maryland hospital and beaten up by security guards after attempting to leave. The victim--46-year-old Joseph Wheeler--is suing Prince George's Hospital for more than $12 million.

The incident occurred in June after Wheeler was taken to the Cheverly, Md., hospital for torso trauma from a car accident, ABC News reports. According to Courthouse News Services, Wheeler woke up hungry the day after the accident, but was told by a nurse who checked his ID bracelet that he wasn't allowed to eat because he was scheduled for surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his chest. Wheeler then checked his bracelet, which allegedly bore the name of a female patient 13 years his junior.

When Wheeler tried to leave, a different nurse told him he wasn't allowed to leave and called for security. Two security officers then unleashed an assault of physical and verbal abuse on Wheeler, a complaint filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court details, shoving him into a metal railing, punching him in an elevator and shouting expletives. Wheeler then was taken to an unnamed "lieutenant" who questioned him and told him he was going to be taken back to his room and given a new ID bracelet. When Wheeler refused to give up his first bracelet, stating that he just wanted to leave, the lieutenant allegedly became angry, yelling, "You do not tell me when you want to leave! You will leave when I tell you you can leave!"

After another run-in with the security officers, Wheeler met with a hospital administrator, and eventually was granted permission to leave upon signing a release form stating he was leaving against medical advice. Wheeler immediately was treated at another facility--St. Mary's Hospital--for broken ribs, a sprained shoulder, a ruptured spleen and a concussion.

Among the charges filed by the Wheeler's lawyers are assault and battery and false imprisonment.

George Annas, chairman of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University, told ABC News that the only time a patient is restrained is when they can't make sound decisions because of delirium or intoxication, or if they are a potential danger to themselves or others.

"A hospital is not a prison, and usually a patient can always leave," Annas said.

To learn more:
- here's the actual complaint
- read this ABC News article
- check out this Courthouse News Services piece