Nursing Home Abuse Claims
An older adult who can no longer care for themselves in their own home may be placed in a nursing home. A nursing home is a residential care facility that can provide basic care for the resident. This includes help with daily life activities. Nursing homes may also have healthcare personnel to help with medication, mobility, and monitoring.
Nursing home residents can be victims of abuse or neglect. But this can go unreported because the abuse victim is unable or afraid to report the abuse. If a family member finds out about potential abuse, they can report it. More importantly, they can file a nursing home abuse claim to help recover damages for the injury victim.
Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse Claims
Abuse in nursing homes can take many forms. It can involve a single occurrence or be repeated over time. Nursing home abuse can involve individual caregivers and other residents, or be caused by negligence of the care facility. Types of nursing home abuse include:
- Physical abuse and emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse and sexual assault
- Economic exploitation (financial abuse)
- Neglect (including carelessness that leads to wrongful death)
In institutional settings, several factors can contribute to the abuse or neglect of residents. Signs of nursing home abuse include:
- Poorly qualified and inadequately trained staff
- Staff with a history of violence
- Inadequate numbers of staff (understaffing)
- Isolation of residents (false imprisonment)
- Reluctance of residents to report abuse out of embarrassment or fear
An assisted living facility may also be liable for nursing home neglect arising from:
- Lack of personal supervision and adequate medical care for elderly residents
- Wrongful hiring or retention of nursing home staff members
- Poor maintenance of the long-term care facility premises and equipment
- Medication errors or bad medical treatment
Liability for Nursing Home Injuries
Nursing homes can be held responsible for injuring residents. Liability extends to negligence, abuse, false imprisonment, or violations of criminal statutes (elder abuse laws). Nursing homes may also be responsible for any regulation violations pertaining to their licensing, maintenance, and general operation.
Any act of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an older person might give rise to one or all of the following types of proceedings:
- An investigation and finding by an adult protective services agency or ombudsman
- A civil cause of action for damages (a nursing home abuse lawsuit)
- Criminal prosecution
These three types of proceedings have different objectives. A protective services investigation aims to provide immediate help and relief to the victim and prevent further harm. The goal of a civil lawsuit is to remedy damages through financial compensation. Criminal prosecution is meant to punish the harmful conduct.
To pursue a personal injury claim based on nursing home negligence, the injured party has to prove:
- The nursing home's owner or employees owed a duty of care to the residents;
- They breached this duty or otherwise fell short of the standard of care;
- The person's injury was caused by this breach; and
- There are resulting damages, such as serious injuries
For example, a nursing home has a duty to ensure the safety of its guests. If a caregiver leaves the front door open at night, unauthorized individuals may gain access. This may be a breach of the nursing home's duty, leading to potential injuries suffered by residents.
Neglect can happen in other ways. Some signs of neglect may be easier to spot than others. Warning signs in elderly residents include:
- Inexplicable or sudden weight loss from malnutrition
- Serious injuries like broken bones or excessive bruising
- Recurring ulcers, bedsores, or physical symptoms of emotional distress
To learn more, make sure to check out our Nursing Home Abuse FAQ.
Medical Malpractice Claims
Unlike negligence, where liability can attach to any wrongdoer, medical malpractice liability usually follows medical professionals. The most obvious case of medical malpractice is a nursing home doctor failing to provide proper treatment. But some nursing home medical malpractice claims can carry more nuance. Depending on the state, a nursing home administrator may be considered a health care provider. They would then be subject to medical malpractice laws.
The distinction between negligence and malpractice is important. For instance, suppose a nursing home administrator failed to exercise care with respect to maintaining the nursing home facility. That issue will likely not require expert testimony. On the other hand, a nurse's treatment of a patient's condition might necessitate experts. However, the answer may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (state law). In jurisdictions where the administrator is considered a health care provider for purposes of medical malpractice law, the injury victim may have to satisfy additional procedural requirements.
Proving Duty and Breach of Duty
A plaintiff suing a nursing home for medical malpractice may need to offer expert medical testimony. Experts will review medical records and medical bills relating to injuries. They will opine on proper practice, treatment, or procedure in a given situation. Even if the improper treatment seems obvious, there may be a statutory requirement for expert medical testimony to establish the standard of care.
Statutory Standard of Care in Nursing Homes
Many states have enacted statutes or regulations that establish minimum standards of care for private nursing homes. However, even if a nursing home can show it complied with minimum licensing standards, it may still be liable for a resident's injuries. For these reasons, it is important to have an attorney research the applicable standard of care. They may also need to advise you on licensing requirements and other regulations in your area.
Cause of the Injuries
A common issue is whether the resident's injury was inevitable due to their preexisting:
- Poor health
- Medical complications
- Mental condition
- Advanced age
Nursing homes often argue that a resident's preexisting health condition—and not any negligence on the part of the nursing home—was the true cause of an injury alleged in a lawsuit. This claim should not deter a resident who believes a nursing home caused their injury. A well-established rule of law called “the eggshell rule" supports plaintiffs with preexisting conditions. It states that a defendant, including a nursing home, takes its victim as it finds them, with preexisting conditions and all. The fact that a resident's injury may have been made worse or was harder to treat will not be relevant. The eggshell rule, therefore, means that a preexisting physical or mental condition does not relieve the defendant of liability.
Defenses in Nursing Home Abuse Cases
In negligence actions, nursing homes are entitled to offer defenses. Examples include contributory negligence of the injured party and the assumption of a known risk. Contributory negligence can reduce damages or deny compensation based on the plaintiff's own negligent actions. However, this defense may not be available when the resident was placed in a nursing home because they needed to be protected from the effects of certain medical conditions, like dementia.
Breach of Contract
In most cases, a nursing home will enter into a contract with a resident. The contract sets out disclaimers about the services it will provide and the cost of those services. But sometimes, a nursing home facility might break the premises in its own agreement. If the abuse or neglect of the nursing home is contrary to promises made in the contract regarding the care of residents, the nursing home can be sued under a breach of contract.
Many contracts require only that the home provide services that are "reasonably necessary" for the resident's well-being. However, even with the most basic standard, a nursing home could be found to have breached the contract by failing to meet the basic needs of a resident. Breach of contract cases can substitute or accompany personal injury claims based on negligence. Depending on the specific facts of your case, you may be able to sue for both of these legal claims.
Claims Against Multiple Parties
When you're trying to figure out exactly what caused harm to a resident, keep in mind that multiple parties may have liability. The most obvious culprits are nursing home staff and owners. But what if there was something wrong with the equipment, medication, or nursing home premises? Accordingly, additional defendants to a nursing home abuse lawsuit may include:
- Product manufacturers, including equipment and medication producers
- Contractors, building owners, operators
- Other nursing home residents
For example, if a medicine has unexpected side effects, claims may be made against the drug maker or doctor who prescribed it. If an unsupervised resident attacks another, the assailant may have liability alongside the nursing home.
Criminal Penalties for Nursing Home Abuse
Some states provide criminal penalties for elder abuse, neglect, or other mistreatment of nursing home residents. In recent years, there have been more and more prosecutions of elder abuse and exploitation. Some states have enhanced penalties for crimes committed against older people. If a nursing home violates criminal laws, its owners and staff members may be prosecuted by the government. In a criminal case, a district attorney (government lawyer) will bring criminal charges. These charges will usually seek fines, imprisonment, or suspension or revocation of the nursing home's license.
In some cases, criminal neglect can include failure to:
- Provide residents with sufficient food
- Keep residents clean
- Prevent bedsores from occurring
In other cases, the unjustified use of physical restraint has resulted in convictions for nursing home abuse. Depending on the state, the definition of abuse may require harmful physical contact. It may not cover verbal threats.
An Injury Attorney Can Review Your Nursing Home Abuse Claim
Nursing home abuse happens all over the country, and legal action is available everywhere. You have legal options whether you're in Atlanta, Georgia, California, or New York. If you or a loved one has suffered injury or abuse as a nursing home resident, you should speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. This helps to ensure that your legal rights to compensation are fully assessed.
A nursing home abuse attorney is a specific type of personal injury lawyer with skills to obtain financial compensation. This includes nursing home injury-related costs, such as your medical expenses. A nursing home abuse lawyer can also keep track of time limits (statutes of limitations) for filing a lawsuit for nursing home injuries.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.