Elder Abuse Neglect Lawyer - Nursing Home Compensation Settlements
The fact of the matter is that the world’s population is aging and, unless the family has its own resources, there is an increasing need for qualified nursing facilities and home healthcare to look after the elderly. Most of the time, residential care in nursing homes is thoughtful, helpful and improves the quality of life of the elderly person. In some cases, however, there is negligence, elder abuse or neglect and it becomes the job of the individual’s family to instruct a lawyer skilled in personal injury cases involving the elderly.
It is the job of the personal injury lawyer to participate in the investigation of cases of elder abuse and neglect and to file claims in a court of law against residential care homes that compensate the elderly person for their abuse, injuries or emotional trauma. The compensation alone will do little to fully make up for the suffering of the elderly person but it can help them afford better care and can diminish future out of pocket expenses for care.
Sometimes punitive damages can be awarded. In the awarding of punitive damages, it must be shown that the guilty party was reckless, fraudulent, showed malice or showed ill intent against the elderly person. The amount of the compensation for punitive damages is usually decided upon by the judge. Such award monies are in addition to the monies awarded for injuries, death or pain and suffering.
Very few families have the income necessary to pay for the care of their loved one after they become infirm. They must rely on government services to pay for the care of their elderly relative in a residential care home until the elderly person has exhausted all their financial resources. When the government is involved in caring for the elderly, nursing homes and similar facilities must comply with safety regulations, regulations around providing medicines, those dealing with day to day cares and other components of eldercare. The government requires a great deal of documentation of the activities and cares of the residents, partially to make sure those standards are kept up with and neglect does not occur. Even so, mistakes can happen and not all nursing homes consistently comply with what is legally required of them.
If an elderly person becomes injured, killed or is neglected or abused in some way, this type of case should be investigated. If you instruct a lawyer because of something that has happened to your elderly relative, they will make an assessment of the number of qualified medical staff that were on duty at the time of the injury. Some nursing homes try to save costs by having too few higher level nurses and too many lower level aides. Such a situation is ripe for injury and neglect and will be considered as part of a claim against a nursing home should an event occur. The lawyer will also assess whether or not there were enough aides to take care of every patient at the nursing home. If there are not enough nurse’s aides, there will not be enough people to help the elderly people get proper nutrition, including food and drink. Malnutrition will ensue and this can be cause for a legal claim against the nursing home.
Nursing homes have specific obligations to the resident when it comes to their medical care, nutrition and activities. Ideally, the extent of these obligations is spelled out in a contract signed by the family or resident and the staff. Other obligations are implied and expected for all nursing home facilities. Some of the contractual obligations include adequate room and board, including resident-specific nutritional needs and other special needs. The resident must have adequate access to skilled medical care and they must be cared for by skilled nurses who have completed the proper training. The environment must be kept safe, with special attention to the prevention of residents wandering from the building. Stairwells must be protected and care must be taken to use restraints properly so as to avoid restraint-related injury.
Records & Documentation
Nurses and other staff can protect themselves from litigation by carefully documenting all they do as part of the care of the elderly patients in the nursing home. There should be a care plan that includes medications, diet, sleeping habits, illnesses and other cares. The nurse should examine this plan on a regular basis and document the ways they have complied with the care plan. The care plan is usually in part determined by an admissions assessment performed by a qualified nurse. The nurse pays special attention to fall risk, nutritional risks, depression risk and the degree of skin integrity. If the skin integrity is questionable, there should be a regular assessment of ongoing risk and efforts made to avoid bed sores.
Elder Abuse & Neglect
Negligence can be defined as falling away from the established care plan. If it states in the care plan that a certain activity be undertaken on a daily basis and this isn’t documented as having been done as recommended, the result could be taken as negligence. What kinds of errors are we talking about? There are errors of commission and there are errors of omission. In errors of commission, something is actively done to the resident that causes then harm. In errors of omission, the staff person forgets to do something as outlined in the care plan.
Errors of Commission
Errors of commission are many and include things like improperly performing an invasive action, such as a Foley catheter, causing a patient to fall or otherwise become injured during a transfer, giving the wrong medication, forgetting to give the proper medication by withholding it, using a feeding tube inappropriately so that the stomach becomes overfilled, or engaging in sexual, mental or physical abuse of the resident.
Errors of Omission
Negligence can be the result of errors of omission as well. Some of these errors include failure to write up and maintain a proper care plan, failure to tell the doctor if there is some kind of change in the resident’s medical condition, failure to adhere to proper safety measures, failure to prevent or adequately monitor bed sores. Nurses must wash their hands and wear the proper clothing during a procedure and follow through on risk assessments regarding choking, falls and other risks. Failure to do these things can mean that the staff person was negligent in the care of the resident.
The most common incidents that happen to residents of a nursing home include falls, wandering away from the facility, depression, anxiety, physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse, breakdown of the skin and bedsores, malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration of stomach contents and deep vein thromboses from being in bed all day. Residents of nursing facilities are particularly prone to injuries that include hip fractures, fractures of other bones, head trauma, brain hemorrhage, pneumonia, pressure sores with resultant infection, pulmonary embolism and pleurisy. Many of these injuries and illnesses can be prevented with proper care and attention to the condition of the resident.
One legal action common in nursing home cases involves skin integrity. Elderly people have thinner skin than younger people and they tend to either leave body parts in one place for a long time or rub specific body parts back and forth, creating friction. It is up to the nursing staff to look for early changes in skin integrity and to intervene with measures that are preventative against bed sores. Failure to do this can constitute negligence.
Nurses must examine each patient to determine the risk that they might fall if unassisted. They must determine if the resident would do better with a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. They need to help the resident learn to use these devices safely and monitor their use of these devices. Nurses also need to find out who is at risk for falling because of osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, dementia or gait abnormalities. Residents who are on certain sedating medications carry a higher than average risk of falling. Once a resident is declared a fall risk, he or she has this information included as part of their care plan. Nurses need to document the way the resident walks and his or her progress using the cane, walker or wheelchair. Women with osteoporosis should be carefully monitored for tripping risks as, if they fall; they will likely facture their hip, wrist or spine. The nursing home itself should be cleared of debris, obstacles, rugs and other things that can increase the risk of fall.
Medication errors are common. There are often dozens of residents and hundreds of medications to be given at certain times of the day and in specific ways. Negligence in nursing happens when a nurse gives the entire batch of the wrong medication to the wrong resident, when the nurse forgets to give a necessary medication or when the nurse gives the wrong medication. Any of these can be declared negligent and a claim may be filed.
The family who consults a personal injury lawyer regarding an elder abuse or neglect in a nursing home does so at no initial cost. This is because elder abuse claims involving neglect or abuse are dealt with by the lawyer on a contingency basis. This means that the family does not have to pay the lawyer at all until the case is won. If your lawyer loses the case, there are no legal charges to be paid and you do not receive any compensation. The defendant, on the other hand, must pay for their lawyer’s services throughout the case which may encourage them to settle at an early stage.