Personal Injury Case Study
In this example of elderly physical abuse, a mentally incapacitated man assaults his wife due to lack of adequate supervision by the nursing home where he resides. We discuss relevant legal issues including liability, injuries, negotiations, and the final settlement.
Arthur and Evelyn had been married for 50 years and lived independently their entire marriage. In the last 6 months however, Arthur had begun to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s disease and Evelyn was unable to adequately care for him on her own. He also started to show violent tendencies toward Evelyn which could have proven to be dangerous.
Their only child, Lucia researched various nursing homes and found one that was characterized as independent living. In that setting, Arthur would receive hands on, daily care with constant supervision in the residential portion of the facility. Evelyn would receive minimal care in a studio apartment type setting because she was still ambulatory, lucid and capable of caring for herself.
This also allowed the couple to continue to reside close (though not together) as they had for over 50 years. For the first three months everything went according to plan, however in the fourth month the nursing home was sold to new owners who changed the entire staff. Thereafter, the facility went down-hill, records were lost, the cleaning crew was cut and the current staff began working long hours.
Lucia was unaware of the care her parents were now receiving because she had accepted a job offer on the other side of the country (and was not available to visit them often).
In the fifth month, Arthur was left unsupervised with Evelyn even though the chart specifically warned that he was prone to violent outbursts. On the evening in question, Arthur violently attacked Evelyn during one of his episodes. He snapped out of it and wandered back to his room.
Evelyn was not discovered for two days because the facility was not performing regular bed checks. By that time, she was weak and immobile on the floor of her room with a broken hip and a concussion. It was unclear what Arthur had done and she was unable or unwilling to say.
The owner of a nursing home is required to employ staff who will make regular inspections, follow the directives of patient charts, administer medication according to doctors’ orders, regularly perform bed checks and, in general, protect the safety and welfare of their clients.
In this case, the new owners all but ignored the charts and cut their staff, which probably led to the failure to properly supervise their clients.
Evelyn experienced a broken hip and a concussion. It was unclear however, whether Arthur caused any of these injuries through his elderly physical abuse or whether they were the result of her frail condition. She was either unable or unwilling to comment on how she injured herself.
Once found, Evelyn was immediately transported to the hospital. She was placed in urgent care and prepped for surgery to repair her hip, which required a full hip replacement.
In the jurisdiction where the injury occurred, the standard of contributory negligence applied. Because it was never clear whether Arthur caused her injury or whether it was the result of a normally occurring incident, the insurance company for the nursing home assessed liability at 50/50.
Lucia hired an attorney to argue that the failure to adequately supervise Arthur is what, in fact, caused the the elderly physical abuse of Evelyn. This convinced the insurance company to assess fault at 60% to the nursing home and 40% to Arthur. Evelyn’s surgery and follow-up care cost $40,000 and the attorney requested a settlement of $160,000. The insurance company countered at $100,000.
The final settlement was $130,000, however the insurance company only had to pay 60% of that or $78,000. Naturally, neither Lucia nor Evelyn intended on pursuing the balance against Arthur since, if he was at fault in any way, it was not a conscious decision but rather the result of a mental condition that had developed over time.
- When placing loved ones in a nursing home, it is always a good idea to make periodic inspections. Because Lucia lived so far away, it was impossible for her to know if the quality of care was declining in any way.
- If a jurisdiction looks at contributory negligence, they may apportion fault to more than one party.
- Failure to adequately supervise an individual can give rise to liability if you are responsible for their supervision. In this case, the nursing home staff failed to supervise Arthur at a time when he could have harmed himself or others.
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