Choosing to place an aging loved one in a nursing home is never an easy decision. Once the choice is made, we expect our loved ones are given exceptional care and treated with dignity and respect. This is often the case, but when the facility doesn’t provide the expected standard of care, or a caregiver outright abuses or neglects a loved one, it devastates victims and their families. If you suspect or know your family member has been abused in a nursing home, your first priority needs to be to stop the abuse. Immediately contact the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) to report the abuse. Filing a report will initiate an investigation and possible criminal charges.
Nursing home abuse causes victims physical and mental injury and stress and also carries financial costs for victims and their families. Florida law entitles nursing home abuse victims, or a representative on their behalf, to seek compensation for damages in civil court. Let an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer help you hold abusers and nursing homes accountable. Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA or Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) to reach one of our team members in Dunedin, or one of our many offices throughout Florida.
Florida Nursing Home Abuse Laws
The term abuse is an umbrella term which includes neglect and exploitation, and well as physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Florida law provides legal definitions for abuse, neglect, and exploitation of disabled adults or elders who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Under Florida law, three types of activities constitute elder abuse:
- Intentional physical or emotional harm
- Intentional acts likely to result in physical or emotional harm
- Active encouragement of physical or emotional harm committed by a third party
Caregivers who fail to provide nursing home residents with the things they need to maintain physical and mental health are guilty of neglect. Florida law refers to neglect as the failure to provide care, supervision, or medical services. Some examples include:
- Leaving nursing home residents unsupervised
- Failure to provide clothing and personal grooming items
- Failure to provide a nutritious diet or withholding food and water
- Failure to give residents their medication
- Failure to report abuse committed by another party
Exploitation often means the financial abuse of elders, but it also includes other negligent and harmful actions. Under Florida law, the following activities constitute exploitation:
- Depriving or attempting to deprive an elder of their assets or funds by a trusted person, a person who has a business relationship with the victim, or a person who knows the victim cannot consent
- Breach of fiduciary duty towards a resident, including embezzling funds, misappropriation of funds, and fraud
- General abuse of power, especially in reference to a resident’s power of attorney
Prevalence of Nursing Home Abuse
Scholars, policymakers, and industry experts agree many instances of nursing home abuse go unreported from fear of repercussions or the inability to communicate. This also makes nursing home abuse difficult to research beyond counting the number of complaints filed with DCF. Yet, one landmark study on elder abuse by the National Research Council (NRC) dedicates an entire chapter to elder abuse in long-term care facilities. Some of the key facts speaking to the prevalence of nursing home abuse include:
- Those who live in nursing homes are more vulnerable than elders who live at home because they entirely depend on nursing home employees to provide their care.
- The risk for nursing home abuse increases with a resident’s dependence. Those who suffer debilitation conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are more likely to suffer abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
- Registered nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) have participated in focus groups and research interviews and admitted to insulting and yelling at residents, using foul language, threatening physical violence, and shoving, hitting, pushing, and slapping residents. Nurses and CNAs also admitted to improper and excessive use of restraints.
- These focus groups also revealed neglect is common, especially when facilities are under-staffed. According to the respondents, common acts of neglect include failure to do a range of motion exercises, failure to reposition residents, failure to provide water, and failure to help residents eat meals.
Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse in Florida
Under Florida law, a victim of nursing home abuse has limited time to take legal action, which varied depending on the situation. In some instances, a victim cannot communicate and a family member, friend, staff member, or other party notices signs of abuse. In these cases, Florida law allows for delayed discovery. This rule allows victims, or another party on their behalf, to file a lawsuit up to two years from the date someone discovers the abuse, neglect, or exploitation; however, Florida law places an absolute four-year statute limit from the date of discovery to initiate a lawsuit.
When abuse or neglect results in the wrongful death of a nursing home resident, surviving family members have two years to commence a wrongful death lawsuit. Some rare cases might result in a nursing home and a manufacturer sharing liability. For example, a resident sustains an injury or harm because a defective wheelchair broke and caused them to fall. These cases typically have a four-year statute of limitations. In any case, you need to consult with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer to see which time limit applies to your case.
Florida’s Resident Bill of Rights
Under Florida law, residents of assisted care facilities and nursing care facilities have an extensive Resident Bill of Rights, which include:
- A safe a decent living environment, free from abuse and neglect
- Respectful and considerate treatment recognizing dignity, individuality, and privacy
- The use of personal property, including clothes, unless it interferes with the safety or the rights of other residents
- Unrestricted telephone access and private communication
- Visitation with anyone of the resident’s choice between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., with special consideration for out-of-town guests and caregivers
- Maintaining independence by participating in community services and activities
- Manage financial affairs, if capable
- Share a room with a spouse
- Exercise regularly, including spending time outdoors
- Attend religious services
- Assistance to obtain healthcare
- Complain or request changes in policies, procedures, services by speaking to staff, government officials, or any other party without repercussions
If a facility, staff member, or caregiver violates these rights, the court may impose a $2,500 fine. Florida law also entitles residents to seek damages in civil court when a facility or employee violates any of these rights.
Signs Your Loved One Is Being Abused at a Nursing Home
Even if your loved one can communicate to you about abuse, it doesn’t mean they will. As previously mentioned, victims often don’t report abuse for fear of retaliation or because their abuser threatened to hurt loved ones. When you visit your family members in a nursing home you need to watch for signs of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs provides the following guidance on warning signs of nursing home abuse.
Physical signs of nursing home abuse are the most obvious and easiest to detect. They include:
- Bruises, cuts, wounds, welts
- Abnormally pale or ghostly skin color
- Evidence of malnutrition or dehydration including excessive weight loss and sunken eyes or cheeks
- Evidence of poor hygiene such as consistent bad breath, soiled clothing, and body odor
Behavioral signs of nursing home abuse are harder to read and they might also be signs of other issues. Behavior is a sign especially when it is abnormal or a change from the way your loved one usually behaves. Examples include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Excessive fear and worry
- Withdrawal from normal activities and interactions with others
- Excuses about bruises or injuries which don’t fit
- Fear and hesitation to speak openly to you, especially in front of nursing home staff
- Talk of dying or suicide
- Depression and anxiety
Signs of financial exploitation are easy to find when you know what to look for. When handling financial affairs for your loved one or when visiting, the following might indicate financial abuse:
- Missing cash, jewelry, checks, or other valuable personal items
- Abnormal and unexplained charges on debit and credit cards
- Changes in address on financial accounts you or your loved one did not authorize
- Changes in your loved one’s credit rating, indicating someone might have opened accounts
Seeking Compensation in a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
If you choose to file a personal injury lawsuit and seek compensation for injuries sustained as a result of nursing home abuse, you might be able to recover the following damages in a settlement or if a Florida court rules in your favor:
- Medical expenses related to the abuse including ambulance service, hospital stay, rehabilitation, medication, radiology, and other diagnostic tests
- Assistive devices required because of injury including wheelchairs, canes, and walkers
- Costs associated with transferring your loved one to another facility
- Future medical costs if abuse resulted in disabilities
- Expense of visiting a counselor or psychologist for mental anguish and emotional trauma caused by the abuse
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental pain and suffering
- Punitive damages in cases including intentional harm and abuse or gross negligence
If your loved one died as a result of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, you might be able to seek compensation depending on your relationship to the victim. You may be able to recover some of the above damages in a wrongful death lawsuit as well as funeral expenses and burial costs. Some non-economic damages are also reserved for surviving family members. A nursing home abuse lawyer who has experience with wrongful death cases will advise you on what applies to your situation.
Comparative Fault in Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Florida’s civil courts apply comparative fault to most personal injury cases, including nursing home abuse cases. Comparative fault is the notion of shared liability, and when applied, courts assess the extent to which a plaintiff might be responsible for their own injuries. Arguing shared liability when a victim suffers from dementia or something similar, or when an abuser intentionally harms a resident, is difficult and often impossible. Yet, in some cases, comparative fault might apply.
Consider a nursing home resident who refuses to take medication, refuses to eat or drink, or refuses other care leading to injury or death. Although the nursing home remains responsible for the resident’s health, and failure to administer medication is abuse, the court might find the resident partially liable in this case. When the court applies comparative fault to a case, they assign a percentage portion of fault to each party in the lawsuit. They reduce the amount of damages they award the victim in accordance with the victim’s percentage fault. For example, a victim sues for $1,000,000 in damages, but the court finds he or she was 15 percent liable for damages. Florida law prohibits the victim from collecting more than 85 percent, or $850,000, in damages. A skilled nursing home abuse lawyer will advise you on how comparative fault might impact your case.
Contact an Experienced Dunedin Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Your aging family member deserves excellent care and to be treated with the utmost respect when they live at a nursing home. If trusted caregivers have taken advantage, harmed, or neglected your loved one, they must be held accountable for their actions. Nursing home abuse often includes criminal charges against the abuser. When you take action on behalf of your loved one, not only do you help them, but you also play a part in preventing abusers from harming other residents. If you suspect abuse, neglect, or exploitation, contact one of our experienced nursing home abuse lawyers in Dunedin, and throughout Florida.
Call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA or Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss the details of your case. If you choose us to represent you in your nursing home abuse case, you won’t have to pay upfront attorney fees. Instead, we collect attorney fees from any compensation we secure for you in a settlement or verdict in your favor.