Case Example: Assisted Living Facility Neglects Elderly Resident

Careless staff let an elderly woman wander away from an assisted living facility. See how the facility must pay for their gross negligence.

Here we present a fictional case study drawn from the fact patterns in actual elder abuse and neglect cases.

This case study is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events, although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

Our study involves an assisted living facility that failed to protect an elderly resident from wandering away. The confused resident was placed in grave danger and suffered severe injuries as a result.

We’ll discuss the facts of the case, the victim’s injuries, the facility’s liability, and the final injury claim resolution.

We wrap up with a list of key points you should know about elder abuse and neglect claims.

Facts of the Case

Sara had to decide to put her mother, Susanne Miller, in an assisted living facility. Susanne had been living on her own, but in recent months had become increasingly confused and disoriented.

Susanne’s doctors diagnosed her with vascular dementia, a type of progressive memory loss that can follow a series of small strokes.

Sara, who lived close to her mother, had been given her mother’s power of attorney (POA) long before her mother developed dementia. With the POA, Sara had the legal authority to handle her mother’s affairs and make decisions on her mom’s behalf.

Suzanne could no longer safely live alone. She moved in with Sara for a while, but after Suzanne accidentally caused a kitchen fire in the middle of the night, Sara realized her mom needed 24-hour supervision.

Sara visited nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area. When she saw the Happy House assisted living facility, she found the staff to be loving and kind.

Happy House administrators assured her they provided excellent “memory care” to their residents, with staffing round the clock. The administrator promised Sara her mother would not be left unattended.

Negligence Leading to Injury

Less than two weeks after Susanne came to live at Happy House, she wandered away from the facility late at night, barefoot and in her nightgown. She walked along a two-lane highway for nearly a mile before she stumbled and fell in the dark.

Susanne tumbled down a steep ravine and was severely injured. She laid there for hours, cold and bleeding, until a couple walking their dog found her shortly after daybreak.

Susanne was dehydrated and in shock when she was found. She suffered mild hypothermia and broken ribs, a fractured wrist, and numerous abrasions to her body due to tumbling down the ravine.

In this case, the employees were grossly negligent for failing to check on Suzanne at regular intervals, or they would have noticed she was gone. Instead, the staff was watching television and playing cards in the resident’s recreation room.

The owners and administrators of Happy Home are also liable. Not only did they fail to train and supervise their night staff adequately, but the alarms on the outside doors were disabled, so the staff was not alerted that a resident had left the building.

Injury Claim and Settlement

Susanne was hospitalized for two weeks with her injuries, then released into her daughter’s care. Sara took a leave of absence from her job and hired a private-duty nurse to care for her mother.

As soon as she had her mom safe at Home, Sara wasted no time finding a local attorney to represent her mother’s injury claim.

Sara and her mother’s injury attorney filed a complaint with the state Ombudsman Program to report Happy House’s negligence. They also filed a lawsuit on Susanne’s behalf against Happy House, Inc., seeking $250,000 in damages.

Happy Home’s insurance company could not deny liability for Susanne’s injuries. The last thing they wanted was a public trial, where the staff and facility negligence would be on display, alongside compelling photographs of a frail and battered elderly woman who had been left in their care.

Susanne’s injury claim was settled for $200,000 from the insurance company, plus a $54,000 refund of her pre-paid residential fees from Happy Home. Suzanne’s attorney negotiated a 40 percent reduction to the medical lien placed against her settlement by Medicare to recover the hospital expenses arising from her fall down the ravine.

Key Points About Elder Abuse and Neglect

  • All care facilities for the elderly have a duty of care to prevent harm to the residents.
  • In addition to federal laws, each state had Adult Protective Services you can contact to report suspected abuse or neglect of an elderly person.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are a common reason for nursing home and assisted living admissions.
  • Long-term care facilities may be subject to criminal charges for the injury or wrongful death of an elderly resident and are ripe for a lawsuit by the patient’s family.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>