According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, almost 25 percent of deaths each year in the United States occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, many of these deaths are unnecessary and occur due to patient neglect and abuse. To hold nursing homes and assisted living facilities accountable for their actions, each state has its own form of nursing home wrongful death statute.
These statutes give family members the right to demand compensation for losses they suffer because of the untimely death of their loved one. These can include ambulance and funeral costs, family members’ emotional losses, including loss of companionship and guidance, and the family’s share of the decedent’s lost future income, if any.
The decedent’s estate can ask for additional losses (damages) under state survivor statutes, which can include the decedent’s own loss of the companionship and love he would have shared with his family if he had lived.
Common causes of death in nursing homes:
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 1,800 people die each year after falling in nursing homes. Most state nursing home laws require facility owners to conduct “fall-risk” assessments for all patients, especially for those who they know are at risk for falling.
Because most nursing homes have tile or linoleum flooring, any time a patient falls he or she is at risk for serious injury or death. Wet floors, debris, and protrusions pose serious danger to elderly patients. The staff must always stay vigilant for dangerous conditions. They also must make walkers available and assist patients to move around. Because of the frailty of many nursing home patients, any fall is potentially lethal.
Nursing home and assisted living facility (ALF) staff also must remain vigilant for signs of infections. Close proximity to other patients, staff members, vendors, and other visitors makes patients with compromised immune systems very susceptible to infection. Unsanitary conditions, including used catheters, dirty IVs, and unclean medical instruments can compound the problem.
Common infections known to cause the death of nursing home and assisted living facility patients include Human Immune Deficiency (HIV), Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (VRSA), influenza, sepsis, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). Failure to promptly identify, diagnose, and treat infections in patients can result in death.
Malnutrition and dehydration
According to the Commonwealth Fund, more than one-third of the 1.6 million nursing home and ALF patients suffer from malnutrition and dehydration. Taken with their already fragile states, these patients can quickly decompensate until they become so weak they can’t fight off infection and pneumonia.
There’s no excuse for a patient to become malnourished or dehydrated. Apathetic staff is often at the root of the problem. Whether because of lack of training or lack of empathy, staff members may fail to assist needy patients with eating, fail to heed requests for fluids, and in some cases completely ignore feeding patients.
Assault and physical abuse
Assault and physical abuse of nursing home and assisted living patients is rampant. Authorities have arrested, convicted, and imprisoned staff for assaulting patients. Low pay and lack of training is no excuse. While physical abuse may not be apparent as the direct cause of death, consistent abuse can cause gradual deterioration of health and ultimately be the underlying cause of death.
Assault and abuse of the elderly is a felony in every state. When police determine abuse is the underlying cause of a patient’s death, they can charge the staff member who committed the assault with murder.
Common forms of assault and abuse of the elderly include striking, kicking, violently shaking, pinching, and even burning. Patients’ clothing can cover up bruising, abrasions (scrapes), lacerations, and even broken bones, especially when the patient is bedridden and can’t effectively communicate his pain. Too often, guilty staff members explain away these injuries by saying the patient fell.
Unfortunately, abuse often goes undetected until it’s too late and the patient dies because of his injuries. Even then, without an autopsy, the doctor may rule the patient’s death due to heart failure, pneumonia, or other common cause of death.
While medical malpractice is often associated with hospital and outpatient treatment centers, it also frequently occurs in nursing homes. Unfortunately, all too often doctors employed by nursing homes and assisted living facilities are semi-retired, part-time, or marginal “fringe” doctors. They’re often poorly paid and employed by nursing homes to make superficial examinations of patients.
When doctors fail to diagnose a patient’s illness properly or fail to prescribe proper medications, they can severely compromise a patient’s health. Failing to order required tests or treat existing maladies can lead to rapid deterioration of the patient’s condition, resulting in death.
There are two types of legal remedies available to family members who want to pursue a nursing home wrongful death case. They can pursue these legal remedies separately or together in the same lawsuit. The first is a claim for wrongful death, and the second is for survivors’ benefits.
Wrongful death action
In the wrongful death section of the lawsuit, the decedent’s family claims the following:
- The decedent died because of a specific form of nursing home negligence.
- The decedent died leaving loved family members.
- The family members suffered pecuniary (monetary) and emotional losses.
In the survivors’ action part of the lawsuit, the administrator or executor* of the decedent’s estate claims the following:
- The decedent died because of a specific form of nursing home negligence.
- As a result of the negligence, the decedent unnecessarily suffered before he died.
- Had he lived, the decedent would have sued the nursing home for negligence.
- Had he lived, the decedent would have earned future income, which is now lost.
- Because of his death, the decedent lost the future love and companionship of his family members.
In a survivors’ action, because the decedent can’t actually receive compensation, the administrator or executor asks the court to order the negligent nursing home or assisted living facility to pay the decedent’s estate.
In this instance, the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate named in his will would receive the compensation. If the decedent died intestate (without a will), the state’s probate intestacy laws would come into play. In that case, the legal beneficiaries of the estate are those family members named under the state’s intestacy laws.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
To pursue a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit requires a qualified personal injury attorney with extensive experience in these kinds of cases. It’s foolish to attempt such a lawsuit on your own.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities pay millions of dollars each year in insurance premiums. In return, when someone files a wrongful death case, the insurance companies make sure they quickly provide an army of experienced defense attorneys.
One of your main concerns is the statute of limitations period for filing your lawsuit. Each state sets its own time periods to file legal actions. If you miss that period even by a day, you lose your rights to compensation. Take care, because in many states the period for filing a personal injury claim is different than filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
The Role of an Attorney
Most plaintiffs’ wrongful death attorneys won’t charge any fee for an initial office visit. They receive their fees if they win your case in trial or reach a settlement after filing a lawsuit. It’s a good idea to talk to several attorneys before deciding on one you believe best serves your interests. You want to feel comfortable with the attorney you choose.
Once you settle on an attorney and sign a retainer agreement, your attorney will promptly file a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit. By filing a lawsuit, your attorney can take advantage of the vast array of pretrial discovery techniques provided under the law.
These include taking nurses’, staff members’, and administrators’ depositions (recorded, sworn statements), subpoenaing facility and patient medical records, and conducting additional investigation meant to uncover the true reason for the patient’s death.
These attorneys study recent court decisions, attend continuing legal education courses in nursing home and assisted living developments, maintain professional relationships with physicians and nursing home administrators, and more. These attorneys have access to expert consultants, and where necessary, expert witnesses at trial.
Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit
In this lawsuit, the plaintiff is asking the court to award damages for her father’s death due to dehydration and malnourishment at a nursing home.
Death From Fall and Staph Infection
In this case, the plaintiff is seeking damages from a nursing home for failing to provide adequate care, causing the victim to break her hip and ultimately die from a staph infection while at the hospital.
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Visitor Questions on Nursing Home Wrongful Deaths
Wrongful death suit if elderly parent dies of pneumonia? My mother, 93, has late stage Parkinson’s Disease, and she is currently living in a skilled nursing facility in Wilmington, DE. About a week and a half ago, the facility finally admitted she was “in decline” and eligible for hospice. Around the same time, I was notified of her not eating and drinking. She was... Read More >>
MRSA infection, possible neglect? My mother is 84 years old. She was in a nursing home and became ill. I saw her at the nursing home on 3/10/16, she was sleeping so I didn’t get to talk to her. The next morning the nursing home called me and said she had become ill and wanted to know if I... Read More >>
Will the attorney and Medicare take the entire settlement? My Dad recently died due to lack of medical care at a nursing home. He had a 104.7 degree temperature and was transferred on life support before they gave any attention to him. He had sepsis from a urinary tract infection and died. He also had bed sores. I want to file an elder abuse... Read More >>
Death from Subdural Hematoma After Falling at a Skilled Nursing Facility… My grandfather fell while trying to get out of bed at a skilled nursing facility. He seemed fine on Saturday and Sunday, but took a turn for the worse early on Monday morning and was dead by 7pm that night. The cause of death was listed as “subdural hematoma”. Is the skilled nursing facility where... Read More >>
Negligence resulting in death of elderly woman… My mother was walking down a path outside of her independent living facility. The path was lined with large stones and abutted a small embankment. The path had no railing, but there were other railings on other paths around the facility. The path curved around the large stones and my mother fell on the stones... Read More >>
Wrongful Death Case at a Nursing Home Rehab Center… My mother went in to a facility for rehab from a broken hip. She was on a visit from the east coast. My sister along with the nursing home held a once null and void medical directive over her head. The sister had it done for an emergency bed sore operation that the hospital did... Read More >>
Nursing Rehab Center’s Negligence Causes Death… April 15th 2010 my 74 year old mother fell while living in a nursing rehab center. Two days prior she was given a walker by the physical therapist although her file had dozens of references to “vertigo”, “balance issues” and “rolling gait”. Upon admittance to their care, approx. 1 month earlier, she had been totally... Read More >>