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What Your Rights Are

What Your Rights Are as a Resident of a Nursing Home

A nursing home or its owner, or proprietor, can be held liable for negligence in failing to properly care for its residents. In such a case, the injured resident must prove: 1) that the nursing home’s owner or employees breached a duty of care owed to the resident; 2) that the resident was injured by this breach; and, 3) that the nursing home owner’s or employee’s conduct caused the injury. In a case where a resident dies because of the nursing home’s negligence, it is not necessary to prove that the resident would have survived if not for the negligence. If the defendant accelerated the resident’s death at all, it may be liable for the death, and if the negligence caused the resident additional pain and suffering, the nursing home can be liable to the resident’s estate.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by the negligent conduct of nursing home staff, contact an experienced elder law attorney to discuss your legal rights.

The liability of a nursing home owner or employees can result from negligent personal supervision and care, negligent hiring and retention of employees, negligent maintenance of the premises, and negligent selection or maintenance of equipment. A nursing home can be liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for any wrongful acts of its employees that are committed within the scope of the employee’s duties. To succeed under this theory, the injured person must show that at the time of his or her injuries, the employee was acting on behalf of the nursing home and in furtherance of its business.

Nursing home operators are under a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury to their patients, and the reasonableness of the care is assessed relative to the patient’s physical and mental condition. A nursing home has a duty to safeguard residents from the foreseeable consequences of their various physical and mental impairment(s), which includes taking reasonable precautions to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.

In most states, there is not a duty to have a one-to-one nurse/patient ratio or provide 24-hour monitoring of residents. Nonetheless, a nursing home must consider each resident’s physical and mental condition, and formulate an appropriate standard of care for each resident. If there is a known danger the resident may encounter due to his or her condition, the nursing home must do what is reasonably possible to prevent foreseeable injury to the resident. This includes protecting residents from hazards that may either cause them to injure themselves or be injured by others, including other residents.

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A contract between a nursing home and a resident may affect the duty of care owed to the resident. If a contract requires only that the home provide such services as are “reasonably necessary” for the resident’s well-being, courts often hold the duty owed is the same as that owed under the common law for that jurisdiction. Some courts hold private nursing homes to the same standard of care applied to private hospitals.

Special Knowledge

Where a nursing home has knowledge of special facts relative to certain residents, liability for failing to respond appropriately to such information may be imposed. For example, where nursing homes have had knowledge of violent or aggressive behavior of patients who later attacked other residents, they have been found liable for their failure to protect the other residents and/or supervise the violent residents.

The following are additional examples of cases when the failure to respond appropriately to certain facts resulted in nursing home liability:

  • Where a nursing home knew a resident was subject to occasional dizzy spells, the home was liable for an injury caused by a fall;
  • Where a resident was a smoker, had the use of only one hand, and was otherwise immobile, his death from burns sustained when his clothing caught fire was attributable to the nursing home’s negligence;
  • Where a resident who had recently had cataract surgery fell down a stairway, the nursing home was found liable;
  • Where a resident suffered from cerebral arteriosclerosis and senile psychosis, the nursing home was found liable for injuries caused by resident’s leap or fall from window.

Medical Conditions Caused by Neglect

Some of the most common injuries to nursing home residents are not caused by events such as falls or violent attacks but, rather, from ongoing neglect in the care and treatment. Ongoing neglect has been found to result in malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores and pressure sores. Such neglect is actionable, as it may be found that the nursing home breached its duty of care in not following commonly accepted medical practices regarding patient skin care, such as regularly rotating a patient who is bedridden.

Premises

A nursing home is under a duty to use reasonable care to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition. Visitors to a private nursing home are usually considered invitees of the home; as such, the nursing owes them a duty of ordinary care for their safety. Essentially, this requires that the premises used by visitors be kept in a safe condition and not expose visitors to danger unnecessarily. The nursing home should also eliminate any known dangers on the premises, or at least warn visitors of any hidden conditions about which it is, or should be, aware. However, a nursing home is not an “insurer” of a visitor’s safety, and might not have a duty to warn visitors of conditions or dangers that are obvious.

Selection and Maintenance of Equipment

Residents of private nursing homes have the right to expect that the homes and their employees will exercise reasonable care in selecting and maintaining the equipment and facilities used by residents. Defective devices such as wheelchairs, beds, lamps and other appliances, and poorly maintained stairways, hallways, and examination tables have resulted in nursing home liability.

Defense Considerations

In negligence actions, nursing homes are entitled to assert the sorts of defenses that are available in most negligence cases, such as the contributory negligence of the injured party, and assumption of a known risk. However, in some cases, such as where a person has placed him or herself into a nursing home specifically because he or she needed to be protected from the effects of certain medical conditions, the defense of contributory negligence may not be allowed.

A common tactic employed by defendants in cases brought against nursing homes is to attack causation, and argue that a resident’s underlying disease(s) and physical condition caused the alleged injury, or at least make the issue of causation unclear.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to the fault of a nursing home or its employees, contact an elder law attorney to discuss possible legal compensation in your case.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.