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Is Nursing Home Neglect Legal?

When you think of nursing home abuse, you might recall tragic stories. That includes elderly residents being physically or psychologically abused. It also includes wrongful death, medical malpractice, and financial abuse involving nursing home staff. These types of nursing home abuses are serious personal injury situations requiring immediate intervention.

But there's another form of abuse that often flies under the radar — neglect. Neglect cases can occur in nursing home facilities as a result of mistreatment by staff members. Nursing home negligence can also be caused by assisted living facilities whose policies fall below the reasonable standard of care.

Millions of Americans live in long-term care facilities throughout the country. The number of elderly Americans is projected to increase. Thus, the understated problem of nursing home neglect poses a significant risk to many people and their family members.

What Constitutes Nursing Home Neglect?

The legal definitions of nursing home neglect differ by state. But they usually describe the failure of caregivers to provide or ensure basic needs. These include:

  • Adequate food to prevent malnutrition
  • Appropriate shelter and clothing
  • Bathing services
  • Timely medical care
  • Sufficient staffing to allow for general supervision by nursing home staff members and medical providers

Under federal state laws, caretakers have a duty of care to nursing home residents. They must ensure that the residents have basic necessities, especially if they can't care for themselves. Warning signs of neglect include:

  • Untreated or recurrent weight loss, bedsores, and ulcers
  • Physical abuse or serious injuries like bruising and broken bones
  • Susceptibility to sexual abuse and emotional abuse

The consequences for nursing home neglect depend on the severity of violations and the medical treatment or medical expenses incurred by residents.

Illegal Doesn't Always Mean Criminal

Unlawful conduct that involves nursing home neglect can be subject to both civil laws and criminal laws. Sometimes legal action may only be available through a private civil lawsuit brought by a personal injury lawyer. Other times, government prosecutors might pursue criminal charges.

In a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff might win financial compensation for their pain and suffering or medical care. On the other hand, criminal charges may warrant harsher forms of punishment like fines and jail time.

For example, a resident suffering from neglect might pass away from their injuries. The victim's family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit in a private civil action. This would allow them to recover money for the wrongful loss of their loved one. On the other hand, the district attorney might file criminal charges for negligent homicide.

Nursing Home Neglect: Civil vs. Criminal

In the context of nursing home neglect, civil and criminal laws apply based on the level of neglect. Minor negligent conduct, like accidentally missing a resident's medical appointment, might not amount to a violation. However, as the neglect becomes more serious or repetitive, it could result in violations of civil and even criminal laws. Those violations could lead to specific remedies for the victim as well as punishments by the state.

There are several federal and state civil laws and regulations that apply to nursing homes. Nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid are generally subject to the Nursing Home Reform Act, a federal law with accompanying regulations. Under this law, nursing homes are required to have, among other things:

  • Sufficient nursing staff
  • Comprehensive care plans for patients
  • Proper treatment and assistive devices
  • Appropriate patient supervision
  • Necessary services to carry out activities of daily living
  • Maintenance of accurate, complete, and accessible clinical records

Failure to comply with these regulations might violate federal law. But that doesn't necessarily result in criminal charges and penalties. Instead, noncompliance could subject nursing homes to civil penalties such as:

  • Monetary fines
  • Denial of Medicare/Medicaid payments
  • Probation or revocation of licensure
  • Appointment of temporary management to oversee facilities
  • Removal and transfer of residents to other facilities

However, there are times when nursing home neglect is so egregious that it violates criminal as well as civil laws. This usually occurs in cases where the conduct is intentional or reckless.

For example, in California, the crime of elder abuse is punishable by up to seven years in prison when one willfully causes or permits injury to the person or health of the elder or dependent adult in a way that is likely to produce great bodily harm or death.

State laws vary on what counts as elder abuse and what the punishment will be. For example, in Illinois, imprisonment can be double the aforementioned seven years.

Additional Resources for Nursing Home Neglect

Along with the civil and criminal laws relating to nursing home neglect, there are a number of resources available to victims and their loved ones. You can learn more about these topics by reviewing the articles below.

Reviewing these articles might be helpful in your search for a nursing home abuse lawyer.

Next Steps: Get a Legal Case Review

One of the primary reasons nursing home neglect persists is because the victims are often unable or unwilling to report the abuse. This means that it's critical for others to intervene when they see red flags. Consulting a nursing home abuse attorney or elder abuse attorney is a great first step for getting legal help.

So, if you're not sure how to pursue your legal claim, you should speak with an experienced attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse cases. A personal injury attorney in this field can give you legal advice and possibly provide a free case review. Not all nursing home lawyers and neglect lawyers might provide free consultations, so make sure to inquire separately when you call.

It's best if you act soon, as each state has a statute of limitations on bringing civil lawsuits. That means you have to file your legal action within a specific time limit. Once the period expires, you will be barred from filing your case.

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