A Personal Injury Case Study
This case of neglect in an elderly assisted living facility illustrates some important legal issues in these types of personal injury cases. We’ll review the incident, negligence, liability, injuries, negotiations, and the final case resolution.
Sara and her brother Sam had to make the difficult decision to put their mother Sue in an assisted living facility. She had been living on her own for the previous 15 years since the death of their father, but recently Sue had begun to exhibit strange behavior common with mini-strokes.
She would do such things as wander out of the house wearing little else than a sheer nightgown looking for her long lost child. She would leave the oven open and on, causing potential hazards and she had started lighting numerous candles around the house and then falling asleep.
Sara and Sam believed that, without intervention, she could hurt herself. Sara lived locally but was a mother of three and a busy attorney. Sam lived out of town. Therefore neither of them were in a position to provide her with the round the clock care she need.
Furthermore, Sara felt that her mother might pose a serious threat to the safety and welfare of her children due to some of her behavior, so residing with her was not an option.
They visited Happy House elderly assisted living facility where they found the staff to be loving and kind. They explained their mother’s condition and that the sole purpose for bringing her there was because she needed round-the-clock supervision. They were told that the assisted living regulations required staff to provide 24 hour care, 7 days a week and that their mother would not be left unattended.
To their shock and dismay, one week into her stay, Sue was not checked on during the evening shift. The evening employees would congregate downstairs to play cards and watch television when they were not under the watchful eye of their supervisor who had no idea that they were doing this.
During this time, Sue was able to sneak out of her room where she wandered out to the interstate in her pajamas. She fell on the side of the freeway, tumbled down a steep ravine and was badly injured. She laid there for 5 hours before she was noticed by a couple walking their dog in the early morning hours.
In this case, the employees were grossly negligent for failing to watch Sue or notice that she was gone. Remember, it was not that they noticed and there was a search party, it was a random couple that found her. This implies that the employees never even did a bed check to confirm the well-being of the patients.
The elderly assisted living facility is also liable for failure to supervise and properly train their employees.
Sue was dehydrated and in shock when she was found. Due to the extreme temperatures in her state, she had suffered mild hypothermia as well as a broken hip and wrist, and numerous abrasions to her body as a result of tumbling down the ravine.
Though it was all covered by her insurance policy, without considering the collateral source, her medical bills totaled $45,000, not to mention the discomfort and fear she experienced all night.
Sara and Sam wasted no time finding a local attorney who was a colleague of Sara’s. Due to their friendship, he agreed to represent her mother for 20% which is far less than the normal contingency fee of 33.3% charged.
He demanded $250,000 and would not budge from this figure, arguing that the elderly assisted living facility knew that Sue would be in extreme danger if not supervised, that her children made it clear that this was the sole reason for placing her in the facility and that their failure to watch her was the actual and proximate cause of the damages incurred.
The insurance company could not deny liability but tried to negotiate the settlement to a more agreeable figure.
The attorney settled Sue’s claim for $200,000. After his fee of $40,000 and her medical bills which were reduced to $30,000 were paid, Sue was left with $130,000 which her children used (with her permission) to hire an in-home health care specialist to reside with Sue and make sure that she was not a danger to herself.
- When your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility it is a good idea to drop in at random hours to see how things are run at different times of the day and with different shifts.
- Attorneys are free to reduce their fees if they choose below the standard fee of 33.3% in personal injury cases.
- Ask to see incident reports once you make a decision on a particular facility.
- Ask the facility whether bed-checks are performed, particularly if your loved one is in early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s and is likely to wander.
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