Florida ranks first among all U.S. states in terms of its number of senior citizen residents. Accordingly, government officials have worked hard to establish programs and enact legislation meant to protect elders, whether they live at home, in an assisted living facility, in a nursing home, or in another long-term care facility. There are over 680 licensed nursing homes in Florida; they have more than 83,000 beds and are generally filled to at least 85 percent capacity at any given time. Fortunately, Florida ranks near the top regarding the quality of nursing homes and employee satisfaction. In fact, Florida nursing homes employ more staff members than the national average.
Despite all the positive aspects of Florida nursing homes, horror stories of abuse exist, and residents and their family members have filed thousands of complaints with the state’s Department of Children and Families and Department of Elder Affairs, who work together to monitor and prevent elder abuse in Florida. It’s never easy to make the decision to put a family member in a nursing home; we want our loved ones to live in a safe environment and be treated with dignity and respect.
If one of your elderly family members has experienced nursing home abuse or neglect, he or she may be eligible to seek compensation from the responsible party. Call one of our compassionate and experienced nursing home abuse lawyers at Sibley Dolman, with an office in Boca Raton, Florida, at (561) 220-4963. We can answer any questions you may have and help you and your family determine whether to file a personal injury claim.
What Is Nursing Home Abuse Under Florida Law?
Florida law defines abuse, neglect, and exploitation of elders and disabled adults who live in long-term care facilities to include a wide range of actions. While generally grouped under the umbrella term of abuse, each type of abuse has different legal definitions.
Elder abuse under Florida law includes the following:
- The intentional physical or emotional harm of an elder.
- Intentional acts that will most likely result in physical or emotional harm to an elder.
- The active encouragement of physical or emotional harm committed by another party.
Elder neglect under Florida law refers to the failure of a caregiver to provide elders with the care needed to maintain their physical and emotional health. Florida law considers the following acts as examples of failure to provide care, supervision, or services:
- Withholding food and water, including healthy and nutritious food.
- Failure to provide clothing.
- Failure to supervise nursing home residents.
- Administering medication improperly or not at all.
- Failure to protect an elder and report abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another party.
Elder exploitation often involves financial exploitation, but it can also include other predatory actions. Florida law includes the following actions as exploitation of an elder:
- When a person in a position of trust, with whom the elder has a business relationship, or who knows that the elder cannot properly consent obtains or attempts to obtain and/or use an elder’s funds, assets, or property, with the intent to deprive them of the use or possession of those funds, assets, or property.
- If any person breaches a fiduciary duty owed to the elder, including fraud, mismanagement of funds, and embezzlement.
- If any person abuses his or her power over the elder, which often includes abuse of a power of attorney relationship.
What Causes Nursing Home Abuse?
Many organizations and agencies have studied elder abuse in residential living situations, but few have directly studied the causes of nursing home abuse. Researchers agree on three general scenarios that often lead to elder abuse in long-term care facilities:
- Certified nursing assistants (CNAs), who are the primary caregivers in nursing care facilities, have extremely stressful working conditions and may sometimes take out their negative emotions on elder residents.
- Even with efforts to hire high-quality employees and ensure that a facility is appropriately staffed, many nursing homes remain short-staffed. CNAs work long hours, and administrators often require mandatory overtime, leaving CNAs burned out, which may affect their level of care.
- Some residents are aggressive or combative, and CNAs may not know how to deal with these types of residents.
What Rights Do Nursing Home Residents Have in Florida?
Florida law includes a Resident Bill of Rights that applies to individuals who live in assisted care communities, including nursing homes. This comprehensive law includes the following rights of nursing home residents:
- Residents have the right to live in a safe environment free from abuse or neglect.
- Residents have the right to protect their individuality by using their own clothing and personal property unless it poses a safety hazard or violates another resident’s rights.
- Residents are entitled to unrestricted communication from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This includes mail, open access to a telephone, and the ability to decide which visitors they want to see.
- Residents have the right to be as independent and autonomous as possible, including participating in community activities and using community services.
- Residents have the right to manage their own finances, if possible.
- Married residents have the right to share a room.
- Residents have the right to exercise multiple times throughout the week, if they so desire. This also includes spending time outdoors for recreation, if the weather permits.
- Residents are entitled to help accessing health care.
- A facility must provide residents with at least 45 days notice if it wants to relocate them or terminate their residency.
- Nursing home residents have the right to voice grievances and participate in policy-making decisions. They may speak out to staff, officials, or others, without discrimination or fear of reprisal.
- Residents have the right to meet with an ombudsman or any other advocates or special interest groups.
What Are Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse?
An elder that you love may not be physically able to communicate abuse, neglect, or exploitation to you, or he or she might be afraid of repercussions for doing so. Thus, it’s important that you watch for signs of abuse when you visit and talk to your loved one. According to Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs, the following are warning signs of abuse:
Physical warning signs of nursing home abuse
- Bruises, welts, cuts
- Puncture wounds
- Poor color
- Sunken eyes or cheeks, which might indicate malnutrition or dehydration
- Poor personal hygiene, including soiled clothing
Behavioral warning signs of nursing home abuse
- Excessive worry
- Withdrawal and apathy
- Stories about injuries that don’t make sense
- Hesitation to speak openly, especially in front of nursing home employees
- Confusion and disorientation
Warning signs of exploitation in a nursing home
- Personal items and valuables are missing, including cash or jewelry
- Unexplained credit or debit card charges
- Unauthorized change in address or users on a bank account
- Change in the elder’s credit rating
What You Should Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from nursing home abuse, your first priority should be to stop the abuse as soon as possible. The following steps are important to protect your loved one from further abuse:
- Call 911 if you believe that your loved one is in immediate danger.
- Speak to the nursing home administration. Immediately report your suspected abuse to the nursing home administrator, so that those in charge can carefully monitor your loved one’s caregivers. Make sure to keep detailed records of any communication with nursing home administration; this information may prove vital if you decide to file a lawsuit.
- Document everything that you can. In addition to documenting conversations with administrators, you should keep detailed notes about conversations that you have with your loved one, if applicable. Also, take pictures of any visible physical injuries to your loved one, and provide bills or receipts for odd charges if you suspect financial abuse.
- Keep all medical bills that are associated with physical or emotional injuries, including the cost of transfer if you choose to immediately move your family member to another facility.
- File a complaint with Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF). You can contact the agency by calling its Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). DCF will assign an investigator to your case to gather evidence and make a determination regarding abuse. It’s common for DCF to share information with the criminal prosecutors, so that they can file criminal charges against the abuser if warranted.
- Arrange a transfer to another facility. In the event that DCF determines that abuse has occurred, or if you feel strongly that your loved one should change facilities, visit potential nursing homes and arrange for a transfer.
- Consult an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer. Nursing home abuse cases are sensitive and require cooperation with multiple parties to stop abuse and hold abusers and their employers accountable. A skilled attorney will handle the complex details of your claim and guide you through the legal process, while you focus on supporting your elder through this difficult time.
Seeking Compensation in a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
If your loved one was abused, neglected, or exploited in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, he or she may be entitled to seek compensation in Florida civil court. Depending on the circumstances, multiple parties may be liable for damages in your nursing home abuse case. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, working with an experienced attorney provides you and your loved one with the best chance of recovering compensation. If the court rules in your loved one’s favor, the judge or jury may award the following damages:
- Medical costs related to the abuse or neglect, including hospitalization, rehabilitation, prescription medication, x-rays and other diagnostic scans, assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and more
- The cost of moving your loved one to another nursing home
- Future medical care if the abuse resulted in a long-term condition or disability
- Cost of therapy with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist for emotional trauma and distress related to the abuse
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Punitive damages in extreme cases of intentional harm or gross negligence
If an elder that you love died in a long-term care facility as a result of abuse or neglect, you may be eligible to recover burial and funeral expenses through a wrongful death suit and other non-economic damages, depending on the circumstances and your relationship to the elder. Your attorney will be able to determine your eligibility to file a wrongful death lawsuit. It’s important to remember that Florida law generally requires that you file a wrongful death claim within two years from your loved one’s death; accordingly, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Proving Negligence in a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
The plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit must establish that the defendant acted negligently, which caused your loved one’s injuries. To establish negligence, you must establish the following four elements:
- Duty of care – That the nursing home and abuser(s) owed a duty of care to the resident.
- Breach of duty – That the nursing home and/or caregivers breached that duty through abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
- Causation – That this breach of duty caused loss, injury, or damage to the resident.
- Harm – That the resident was harmed by the breach of duty, meaning he or she suffered a tangible loss or injury.
Once a court determines that a defendant was negligent, it applies Florida’s comparative negligence law to the case. Under comparative negligence, if your loved one was partially responsible for their own harm or injuries, the court can reduce the award by the percentage of fault that it assigns to the plaintiff. For example, if an elder suffers a stroke because he or she refused to take required blood pressure medication, the court may determine that the elder is 25 percent responsible for his or her injury, but also that the nursing home acted negligently and was 75 percent responsible, because its staff failed to ensure that the residents take required medication. In this scenario, the court would reduce the total damages award by 25 percent. A skilled nursing home abuse attorney understands the nuances associated with comparative negligence and will work to ensure the best possible outcome for your situation.
Hire a Boca Raton Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer to Represent Your Loved One
Your loved ones deserve to be treated with dignity and respect when they live in long-term care facilities. If you suspect abuse or are certain that abuse or neglect has occurred, call Sibley Dolman at (561) 220-4963, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
2101 NW Corporate Boulevard, Suite 410
Boca Raton, Florida 33431
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