How To Build a Claim for Nursing Home Injuries

Protect your loved ones by knowing the signs of elder abuse, injury, and neglect. We’ll show you where and how to collect evidence if needed.

The United States is getting older. By the year 2030, about 20% of the population will be over 65 years old. As loved ones age, nursing homes play an important part in the lives of families.

For the sake of our family members, we must learn to recognize failures of elder care, even though it can be unpleasant to think about.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities provide medical care and other services for elders. They range from active retirement communities to long-term care facilities specializing in memory care for patients with dementia and other specific medical issues.

Nursing home facilities are expensive. At the time of this article, the average cost is over $8,000 per month, and that cost will only continue to increase. This is due to the vast amount of responsibilities nursing homes have. While the majority of these facilities do a good job, sometimes the worst can happen.

This article will examine what happens when a resident gets injured in a nursing home. We will examine injuries due to neglect, elder abuse and more common causes like slip and fall accidents. Finally, we will look at how injury and wrongful death claims involving elders are valued, which is a unique point of personal injury law.

Types of Injuries and How To Spot Them

Injured elderly woman's eyes and nose

Even the most conscientious and capable of nursing home staff members can make honest mistakes that result in the injury of residents. Not every injury shows a problem with the facility or its staff.

The most important factor is whether there are signs that the staff is neglecting or abusing your loved one. Below are some of those warning signs and what they might mean.

1. Elder Abuse

Elder abuse can take a variety of forms. It may be more likely to happen at nursing homes where an elderly resident’s family lives far away. Abuse can also take a number of forms, including physical or sexual abuse as well as financial abuse by caregivers.

Elder abuse is more common than you may think. Nearly 10% of elders in the United States have experienced some form of abuse. That number can rise to over 50% where the elderly person has dementia or similar conditions.

This type of abuse can also be very difficult to detect.

Some warning signs of elder abuse are:

  • Unexplained and/or frequent bruises, broken bones or other injuries
  • Genital area pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Strange financial transactions or powers of attorney given to nursing home employees

While these signs do not always indicate that some type of elder abuse is occurring, they should cause you to pay more attention and ask questions. Any reputable facility will be responsive to your inquiries and dedicated to finding the answers. Should you encounter resistance or defensiveness, that’s another red flag.

2. Injuries Due To Neglect

Neglect is different from outward abuse of elders in several different ways. It’s characterized more by a lack of action than outward abuse. A patient may lay in their room for hours on end while staff forgot to bring them meals. Or, a staffing shortage at the facility may have prevented your loved one from being bathed as often as necessary.

A common sign of neglect is bedsores. Also known as pressure ulcers, these lesions on the skin arise when a person lies in a bed or sits in a chair for too long without being moved. Besides being painful, when combined with poor hygiene bedsores can result in infection and even death.

Whether it’s intentional or not, neglect and poor hygiene creates a serious risk to nursing home residents’ health. Infections and illness can spread through elderly populations and sicken or kill residents with terrifying speed. Therefore, signs that a person is not being bathed, fed or moved sufficiently to prevent bedsores must be caught and addressed early.

Though neglect may not present the same type of issue as outward abuse, it can be just as destructive. Bring it to the attention of nursing home staff and pay careful attention to their reactions.

3. Ordinary Negligence

Less clear cut than elder abuse or neglect are the more common injuries that happen in nursing homes. As we get older, we are more likely to injure ourselves in accidents regardless of whether we are in a nursing home or not. Some common injuries in elderly people include burns, sprains and falls.

Slip and fall injuries (like broken hips) are also more common in the elderly. Older women may have conditions like osteoporosis that make them more vulnerable to broken bones.

Neglect vs. Negligence: What’s the difference?

Though these words sound similar, they’re different concepts. Neglect is a term related to well-being that indicates one’s needs are not being properly cared for. Negligence is a legal term of art meaning that someone with a duty (here, a caregiver) breached a legal duty towards another person (here, an elderly patient).

An act may constitute both neglect and negligence. However, it’s possible that a person may be negligent without being neglectful.

For example, if a momentary lapse of attention causes a nurse to give a nursing home patient twice as much medication, that act is certainly negligent. But it isn’t part of a pattern of behavior of failing to care for the patient’s needs, so it’s probably not neglect.

Even without abuse or neglect, a nursing home can still be negligent. Facility staff can simply be negligent in having a momentary lapse in attention, which allows a resident to fall or otherwise be injured. Because the nursing home still owes that resident a duty of care to keep them safe, it’s still responsible even in the absence of neglect or abuse.

Proving the Cause of Nursing Home Injuries

Old man in a wheelchair with an angry male caregiver

The concept and design of a nursing home makes it very difficult to determine how any particular injury or condition was caused.

A resident spends a great deal of unsupervised time with nursing home staff, who wield a large amount of power over their lives. Therefore, any injury will require a lot of detective work and evidence to prove your claim.

When a loved one has been injured, the first place to look is their medical records. The medical records should pinpoint not only the exact nature of the injury, but also when it happened. And if the nursing home’s records do not have that information, that’s another red flag that potentially shows neglect and can be used to prove the claim.

In the event of a serious injury, there should also be medical records from facilities outside of the nursing home (like a hospital). Again, if these do not exist, that may be further evidence of misconduct.

Apart from medical records, you should also inquire as to what types of security and surveillance footage are used at the nursing home. Videos and photos may capture abuse and neglect by staff members. Other types of documents, like bank statements or letters, may also show signs of financial abuse.

In the event you suspect abuse or neglect, you should take your own pictures of your loved one and their environment to preserve evidence for your claim. The United States Department of Justice has also provided resources that you can use when collecting evidence.

Nursing Home Injury Claim Values

Young girl's hands holding the hands of an elderly

As with any personal injury claim, the value of a claim for nursing home abuse, neglect or negligence will differ depending upon the specific facts and evidence supporting your claim.

A physical abuse claim will depend more on the cost of medical treatment, whereas a financial abuse claim will be based on the amount of any money stolen from your loved one.

In general, if you have evidence to support your elder abuse claim in a court of law, it may be a higher-value case. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average recovery for elder abuse claims against nursing homes  (both settled outside of court and fully litigated) is $406,000.

Caring and Advocating for Your Loved Ones

Our elders are valuable members of our families and they deserve to be safe and well cared for. We must ensure that those we trust with their care are worthy of that trust. If they aren’t, justice demands not only that they be held accountable, but that they be exposed so they cannot hurt more people.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of abuse, neglect or negligence by a nursing home, take legal action today. Contact a qualified personal injury attorney in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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