If you have a loved one living in a nursing home, safety is probably one of your primary concerns. Not all seniors live in nursing homes, but many do. Approximately 1.4 to 1.5 million people live in nursing homes in the United States. Residents of nursing homes should be unmolested and free from danger, but unfortunately, that is not always true. Many residents find themselves subjected to abuse in some form.
If you believe that an elderly loved one has suffered nursing home neglect, contact an experienced, compassionate nursing home abuse lawyers at the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, right away.
What Is Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse first became a widespread concern in the 1970s, when there was little or no regulation or oversight. Attention to the problem has increased over the years. An article from the New England Journal of Medicine found the prevalence of elder abuse, including physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, financial abuse, and neglect, to be approximately 10 percent.
The most rapidly growing segment of the population is people aged 85 and older. Therefore, the number of people at risk for nursing home abuse may increase over time. Elderly people who live in residential settings that offer long-term support services are particularly vulnerable because they tend to suffer from limited physical and cognitive functioning and chronic disease, so they are heavily dependent on others for care.
According to the Administration on Aging, elder abuse occurs when a caregiver or other person harms a vulnerable adult. The perpetrator may place the victim at risk intentionally or by an act or negligence. This definition includes residents of nursing homes who suffer abuse or harm while in the care of a facility. The perpetrator may be a caregiver, staff member, or fellow resident.
What Types of Harm Can Affect Nursing Home Residents?
Nursing home residents can be harmed in many ways, leaving them physically injured, emotionally scarred, and financially ruined. The statistics on abuse incidents are shocking, but experts agree that the statistics reflect just a fraction of the problem because many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported each year.
In addition to physical abuse, abuse and neglect can take many other forms. Neglect is generally the failure to provide needed goods and services to a resident. For example, failure to assist with eating and drinking, walking, participating in activities, or toileting and hygiene may be neglect. Financial abuse or misappropriation may mean using intimidation, threats, or coercion to obtain funds. It may also mean the deliberate misuse of a resident's property or money without consent.
Nursing home care is not inexpensive. A Florida nursing home averages approximately $8,152 for a semi-private room and $9,064 for a private room. These rates are per month, resulting in an enormous expense for families. Sadly, the quality of care does not always match the expensive monthly bill.
Why Does Elder Abuse Frequently Go Unreported?
Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of nursing home abuse is that nobody reports most of the violations. A report from the Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General estimates that one-in-five Medicare claims for emergency room treatment provided in one year were the result of potential abuse or neglect, including victims residing in skilled nursing facilities.
Victims may fail to make a report because they have no practical means of doing so — or out of fear of retribution from their abusers. In some cases, victims may not even be cognizant of the situation due to age or health conditions. Thus, it is often up to family members and visitors to discover the problem and take action.
Many nursing home residents are often physically and sometimes emotionally frail. Their ability to see, hear, or think may be diminished. They are less able to protect themselves, fight back, or stand up to bullying. Therefore, an unscrupulous person may take advantage of their weakened state. Signs of elder abuse or neglect can be difficult to recognize or may be mistaken for symptoms of mental deterioration. This is also an easy way for an abusive caregiver to explain away the symptoms. In some cases, staff are overworked or lack proper training, so they miss the signs of abuse.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elderly residents may not report the abuse because they fear retaliation — or they want to avoid getting the abuser in trouble. Even when nursing home residents speak up, facility management often dismisses their claims. Management may accuse the resident of having mental problems or labeled him or her as a troublemaker.
Concerned family members may also fear that filing a complaint will put the resident at further risk. Staff members may fail to report incidents of abuse and neglect because they are afraid they may lose their job, have their work hours reduced, or suffer other consequences. This atmosphere of fear and distrust contributes to a high turn-over rate among nursing home staff.
Many federal and state laws, such as the Elder Justice Act of 2009, have been enacted to address the problem of elder abuse. The act also extended the reporting requirements. Unfortunately, despite the availability of Adult Protective Services and mandatory reporting laws, an appalling number of cases of abuse, exploitation, and neglect still go unreported.
Laws That Protect Nursing Home Abuse Victims
Nursing home abuse law deals with the civil, criminal, and regulatory standards for the unlawful treatment of elderly people by the staff and administrators of a care facility, as well as failure to protect residents from harm at the hands of other residents. States and municipalities often have additional rules governing nursing homes. When a nursing home does not meet these standards, it may face a variety of sanctions, such as suspension or revocation of their license, withdrawal of government funding, or other financial consequences.
In general, nursing homes are held to a high standard of care. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987 states that all nursing homes receiving funds from Medicare or Medicaid must provide safe facilities for their residents. In addition, federal regulations also require that all nursing home residents, regardless of whether they receive Medicaid, have a right to be free from abuse and mistreatment, including neglect.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the first major revision of federal nursing facility regulations since the regulations were issued approximately 25 years before. The revision included protections from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. These protections include physical and mental abuse, such as restraints that are not required to treat medical symptoms, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.
The Affordable Care Act also added a requirement for reporting suspected crimes to law enforcement authorities. The facility may not retaliate against a reporter.
Legal Claims in Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Elderly nursing home residents, or someone acting on their behalf, may file claims against nursing homes. For example, claims may allege physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, false imprisonment, financial abuse, and financial exploitation. Victims can also file a lawsuit for neglect. A nursing home is required to provide reasonable care to its residents. If the nursing home fails to provide reasonable care or fails to adhere to a specific industry standard and that failure causes injury to the nursing home resident, the victim may have a cause of action for neglect.
Another powerful form of legal recourse is a negligence lawsuit. A nursing home facility can be liable for acts of negligence, neglect, or abuse on the premises which harm a resident. A nursing home abuse lawsuit must prove that the nursing home owed a duty of care to the resident, that the nursing home breached the duty of care, and that the resident was harmed as a result. A negligence lawsuit may arise from issues such as:
- Failing to keep the premises safe. The facility and staff of assisted living facilities should be aware of foreseeable dangers such as slip and fall risks. In some situations, the staff or management caused the hazard. In other cases, they knew or should have known about the danger and did nothing about it.
- Negligent supervision. Falls are a common danger among the elderly. The facility must provide appropriate supervision of residents who may fall or injure themselves.
- Failing to maintain clean and sanitary conditions. The facility must ensure proper and regular cleaning policies to keep the premises sanitary, both in resident's rooms and common areas.
- Failure to provide adequate medical care or treatment. Substandard medical care that causes harm to a resident may result in a case for medical malpractice. This may include anything from medication errors or failing to turn a resident to prevent bedsores to failure to treat injuries or illnesses.
- Negligent hiring. Staffing the nursing home with competent and compassionate people is critical to resident safety. If the facility hires or fails to properly train and supervise an employee who abuses a resident in any form, the victim may have grounds to take action.
Warning Signs of Abuse
If you are the relative or close friend of someone in a nursing home, the best way to protect your loved one is to pay attention and know the signs of abuse. This includes verbal, sexual, physical, or mental abuse, as well as abuse enabled through the use of technology, for example, taking and sharing inappropriate photos of residents.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines nursing home neglect as the failure to meet an older adult's basic needs. Some warning signs that abuse occurred include:
- Dirty clothes
- Poor hygiene
- Lack of medical attention
In addition to these indicators, elder neglect and abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or financial.
Physical abuse means hurting a resident. This may involve a deliberate injury, unreasonable confinement, or other forms of punishment. Actions such as kicking or hitting a nursing home resident are obvious, visible abuse. But physical abuse can involve also involve the use of unauthorized medication, restraints, or rough handling.
Signs of physical abuse include:
- Unexplained bruises or welts
- Burns or lacerations
- Lethargy or changes in consciousness
- Restraint marks on the wrists and ankles
- Broken eyeglasses
Emotional abuse can take many forms, such as yelling, threatening, or belittling residents. Also, it may involve humiliating, intimidating, or socially isolating the individual.
Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Fear of particular staff members
- Withdrawal from staff and other residents
- Depression and anxiety
- Changes in cleanliness and grooming habits
Sexual abuse involves any kind of sexual contact without a person's consent. Some victims are not able to give consent due to conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's. There are many signs of sexual abuse. They may be either behavioral or physical.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Sustaining a pelvic injury
- Developing a sexually transmitted infection
- Bruising or bleeding of the genitals or inner thigh
- Symptoms of agitation
- Social or emotional withdrawal from others
Financial exploitation, like other forms of abuse, can have lasting effects on an elderly resident. The individual may suffer from loss of trust, loss of financial security, feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, or depression. The financial abuse of nursing home residents is common, and few residents report it. The rate of financial exploitation is extremely high in all senior populations. Reports indicate that one in 20 older adults have encountered financial mistreatment recently. Only one in 44 cases are ever reported.
Signs of financial abuse include:
- Missing credit or debit cards
- Missing checks
- Other missing property
- Insufficient funds in accounts
Neglect can impact your loved one's behavior and personality. Seek immediate medical attention and report the neglect to the appropriate authorities. Next, consider contacting a nursing home lawyer for help with your case.
Nursing Home Negligence FAQ
Entrusting your loved one with nursing home care is not easy. Their dependence upon others for assistance with daily needs is why a nursing home is often necessary. Unfortunately, nursing home residents are also at a high risk of suffering abuse or negligence. If your loved one experienced neglect at the hands of those paid to care for them, consider contacting a nursing home lawyer now. You can advocate for your elderly loved one by seeking legal representation that protects their best interests.
Below, we explore some common questions we receive concerning nursing home negligence.
What kinds of illnesses and infections are common in nursing homes?
By some estimates, more than 100,000 nursing home residents and staff have lost their lives due to COVID-19. If your loved one contracted COVID-19 in a nursing home facility that failed to implement safety measures, a nursing home lawyer can help you.
Still, COVID-19 is just one of the dangerous types of viruses and bacteria that, without proper precautions, can result in the hospitalization and possible death of your loved one. The following are just a few examples of the types of dangerous conditions your loved one may develop due to nursing home neglect:
- Legionnaires disease — This bacterium can develop in shower heads, hot water tanks, and sink faucets. Those aged 50 and older are more susceptible to the disease, which can change from a cough, fever, and muscle aches into pneumonia.
- Sepsis — The Mayo Clinic defines sepsis as the body's response to infection. Sepsis in the elderly can result from unattended wounds or other types of infection. If not treated as soon as possible, sepsis can result in death
- MRSA — An especially dangerous type of infection, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA), is especially dangerous for the elderly. MRSA is potentially deadly due to its resistance to most antibiotics. Nursing homes must use extra precaution to prevent the spread of this contagious condition that can greatly impact those with low immune symptoms.
When a nursing home fails to maintain a clean, sterile environment that protects the residents from harm, they may be liable for a resident's pain and suffering.
Knowing your loved one's hospitalization—or their death—was preventable had the nursing home used care is frustrating. If your loved one suffered from the flu, an untreated infection, or some other form of nursing home neglect, consider seeking help from a nursing home lawyer.
Can I seek financial compensation for the wrongful death of a family member?
The elderly often experience many health complications simply due to their age. However, negligence and neglect can compound these issues and, at times, lead to tragic consequences.
If you lost a close loved one due to nursing home negligence, you may be entitled to a wrongful death lawsuit. Pursuing such a case can never replace your loved one; however, it can serve as a form of justice for your loss. The unexpected loss of your elderly loved one may also result in financial expenses you did not anticipate. Compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one due to nursing home abuse may include:
- Final medical expenses for your loved one
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of companionship
These are just a few examples of the types of damages possible in a wrongful death case. Some costs are easier to understand, like those of specific bills like medical expenses and funeral costs. Others are more challenging, like that of a loss of companionship.
A nursing home lawyer understands how to negotiate such damages with an insurance company and, if necessary, how to present them to a jury. Our personal injury lawyers will treat your case with compassion and ensure that you can focus on getting the support you need while we handle these legal matters for you.
What is the duty of care?
The duty of care is a key component of nursing home law.
To pursue a civil lawsuit, your lawyer must prove:
- The nursing home owed your loved one a duty of care.
- The nursing home was negligent, either through their actions or by failing to act in a way that protected your loved one from harm.
- The negligence caused your loved one's health problems, injuries, or death.
- Your loved one sustained damages due to the defendants' negligence.
Nursing home residents have rights under federal and state laws. Among the rights are the right to live in a safe and decent living environment, free from abuse and neglect.
The neglect your loved one experienced is a form of elder abuse that demands justice. If a nursing home failed to provide your loved one with a safe environment or they failed to protect them from neglect, a personal injury lawyer can help you.
Personal injury law differs from criminal law in that it focuses on victims' rights, including compensation. The elderly deserve the utmost respect as they enjoy their golden years. If your normally active senior developed COVID-19 or some other type of dangerous virus or disease, they may be entitled to compensation.
Relocating your loved one after their medical treatment can result in expenses that they did not plan for. Finding another facility to care for them may take time. Allowing a nursing home lawyer to represent you with your civil case can free your time to deal with other matters.
The inconvenience and stress caused by a negligent nursing home are maddening. Your loved one's pain and suffering are heartbreaking. Do not let their misconduct go without seeking a free case evaluation from a nursing home lawyer today.
How do I prove nursing home negligence?
Collecting evidence such as photographs, medical records, and the contact information for witnesses is essential for your case. A nursing home lawyer can help you obtain such evidence and will carefully review it. If necessary, they will speak with witnesses concerning your case.
Your lawyer will also prepare your case by identifying all parties liable for your loved one's neglect. Determining liability and proving negligence is best left in the hands of an experienced nursing home negligence lawyer.
Should I accept an offer to settle my case?
If an insurance company extends a settlement offer, do not accept it before you've had the chance to speak with counsel. The amount they offer may appear impressive to you. and you may feel tempted to take it. Do not fall victim to their settlement tactics designed to make you accept less than you deserve.
A nursing home lawyer can represent you with insurance companies. Trying to negotiate a better settlement on your own is never a good idea. It can leave you without the funds your loved one needs or the compensation you deserve for your loss.
If you accept an insurance company settlement right away, you likely lose your right to pursue compensation later in a civil case. To protect your best interests and those of your loved one, let a nursing home lawyer handle your nursing home neglect case.
How long do I have to file a nursing home neglect claim?
To ensure the best odds of success, it's vital to contact a nursing home lawyer as soon as possible. The statute of limitations sets a strict requirement for filing your nursing home case.
Different states give you different deadlines; some states only give you one year. Florida law allows four years for a nursing home case. When it comes to collecting and reviewing evidence, four years is not a very long time. Florida only allows you two years to file wrongful death cases. This is only 24 months from the date of your loved one's death. Your grief can result in your losing track of time. A nursing home lawyer can ensure your case meets all court requirements and deadlines.
We understand if you feel overwhelmed by your situation. Caring for a loved one in addition to your family can leave you stretched thin with responsibilities. This is why consulting an attorney is a good idea for possibly reducing your stress, resulting in more quality time with those you love.
How Can Our Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Help You?
Nursing home abuse has been a persistent, systemic problem for decades. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, lawmakers addressed concerns including neglect, sexual abuse, medication mismanagement, preventable infections, and even death.
If your loved one suffered unnecessarily due to nursing home neglect, it is not fair. Pursuing possible compensation through civil action can hold those responsible accountable for their negligence and possibly prevent the same thing from happening to other residents.
As the population ages, more elderly people will live in nursing homes. They may be vulnerable due to illnesses, physical mobility problems, or mental incapacity. If you suspect nursing home abuse, start documenting the abuse in detail. Careful documentation will support any future legal action. Of course, if the abuse is severe or life-threatening, take whatever steps are necessary to protect your loved one.
Reporting the abuse may not prove enough. Your loved one needs protection and may be entitled to compensation.
The laws concerning nursing home abuse are complex. However, a nursing home abuse attorney who knows the laws and the resources can explain your legal options and guide you through the legal process. For more information or to schedule a free consultation and case evaluation, contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, or call us at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) today.
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