Every year approximately 4 million elderly people are victimized by some form of physical or psychological abuse or neglect. Many instances of mistreatment occur in the nursing home setting. But it isn't always easy to know who is legally responsible -- the facility, an employee, some third party? In this article, we'll focus on figuring out who might be liable for nursing home injuries and abuse.
Is the Nursing Home Always Responsible?
Nursing homes owe a very strict "duty of care" to residents, owing to the broad and important nature of the services provided to a resident, covering such things as food, shelter, hygiene and medical care. Nursing home staff members do everything from provide medications to preparing food. They assist with therapy and other physical activities. Because of this, there are a variety of settings and activities in which a resident may suffer injury or abuse.
Generally, incidents of abuse or injury for which the nursing home can be held responsible often fall into the following categories:
- negligent training of staff
- negligent hiring of staff, such as a failure to perform adequate background checks
- failure to properly monitor staff
- failure to provide adequate security
- failure to provide for the daily necessities of living, such as food and water
- medical neglect, such as failing to address medical needs or provide medication
- failure to protect from health and safety hazards
- imposition of unreasonable or dangerous physical restraints, and
- intentional abuse by staff members.
If it can be shown that the nursing home was negligent, and that negligence played a role in the resident’s injury or abuse, then the nursing home may be held legally liable for all resulting damages. Learn more about the different types of damages in a personal injury case.
Can Third Parties Be Responsible?
It is easy to assume that the nursing home is always legally responsible if a resident is abused or injured. However, this is not always the legal reality.
For example, if a resident is physically injured and suffers a bone fracture, a logical assumption might be that a nursing home staff member either intentionally or negligently caused the injury. But there can be other causes as well. Perhaps a medical device or equipment such as a gurney or wheelchair malfunctioned, causing the injury. In that situation, there could be several parties responsible:
- the nursing home staff member may have improperly used the equipment
- an outside contractor may have improperly maintained the equipment
- the wheelchair may have been improperly manufactured, or
- the wheelchair may have been improperly designed.
Third parties may also bear (or share) liability in a number of other situations, such as where medication was improperly dispensed by automated equipment, or where a physical therapy apparatus broke or malfunctioned. Perhaps a resident suffered food poisoning. In that scenario, the vendor who supplied the food might be legally liable, or the outside contractor responsible for sanitizing the kitchen might also be responsible.
Sometimes, visitors to the nursing home or trespassers on property end up abusing or otherwise injuring residents. In cases like that, the nursing home might be liable for failing to provide adequate security. However, if an outside security contractor provides the security to the facility, that entity might also be legally liable for negligence in the delivery of its security services.
What to Do If You Suspect Abuse or Injury
If you believe that a nursing home resident has been abused, it is important to report the incident to the proper authorities. As a first step, most states have a toll-free hotline number that you can call. To find your state’s number, go to the National Center on Elder Abuse website and click on “Where to Report Abuse.”
If you are concerned about a nursing home or assisted living facility resident, your state’s long-term care ombudsman can also serve as a resource. To find your local ombudsman’s office, call the U.S. Administration on Aging at 800.677.1116 or go to www.eldercare.gov. Learn more about Reporting Nursing Home Abuse and Injuries.
An experienced lawyer can also assist you in identifying the appropriate agency to contact, as well as help with making sure the nursing home resident gets out of a problem situation and into a safe environment. Just as importantly, the lawyer can assist you in identifying the person or party responsible for the injury or abuse.