Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog

It used to be that when the term “nursing home abuse” was mentioned, the mostly likely culprit engaging in the abuse was a staff member of the nursing home. However, according to a recent news report, that may be changing. Evidently, the Annals of Internal Medicine recently commissioned a study of 10 New York nursing homes to see the rates at which residents are engaging in abusive behaviors among themselves. The results were shocking.

Old MenAccording to the study, about 20% of all nursing home residents reported that they suffered some kind of abuse caused by another resident. Most of the abuse was verbal, consisting of threats, swearing, or belittling, but there was a significant amount of physical and sexual abuse that was found. In fact, according to the report, 5% of nursing home residents reported suffering physical abuse, and 0.6% reported being sexually abused by another resident.

The study notes that the lesser forms of abuse are precursors to the more serious types of abuse, and it is imperative that nursing home staff intervene before the pattern of abuse between two given patients escalates. The study also found that residents suffering from dementia or those who were placed in a facility with a high patient-to-staff ratio were more likely to be victimized by another resident.

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Nursing homes are a necessity in today’s busy society. With so many dual-income households, and the advancement of complex medical technology, it becomes difficult if not impossible to care for aging loved ones as they require more and more assistance. When aging loved ones reach a point in their lives at which they need constant care, a nursing home is one of the few options available.

Hospital DoorGenerally speaking, nursing homes are not known for the quality of care they provide the elderly. With daily reports of abuse and neglect, it is difficult to find a satisfactory home in which to place a loved one. However, ultimately a home must be selected.

When an elderly loved one is placed into a nursing home, it may be tempting to think that any deterioration of their condition is due to their new surroundings. After all, they are no longer in the comfort of their own home, and they may not be operating on their own schedule any longer. To be sure, this may cause some discomfort at first. However, assuming that a rapid deterioration in a loved one’s health is due to their new environment is a mistake that may cost an elderly loved one dearly, since often a rapid deterioration in health is a sign of nursing home neglect.

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Earlier this month, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a written opinion illustrating how a party’s failure to be upfront with its intention to compel mediation may prevent that party from later compelling mediation. In the case, Johnson v. Heritage Healthcare of Estill, the court determined that the defendant nursing facility waived its right to seek arbitration after the nursing facility failed to demand arbitration when the plaintiff initially filed the lawsuit.

Hospital RoomThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s mother passed away while in the care of the defendant nursing home. After her mother’s death, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death case against the nursing home, alleging that the negligent care it provided to her mother led to her death. Prior to admitting her mother to the home, the plaintiff had been granted a Power of Attorney and had signed an arbitration agreement, consenting to submit any claims to an arbitration panel rather than pursuing them through the court system.

Once the defendant nursing home got notice of the claim, it answered the complaint, asserting several defenses. One of the defenses cited was that the plaintiff had agreed to seek arbitration, rather than use the court system, in the contract signed prior to her mother’s admission. The nursing home also sought a discovery order from the court, ordering the plaintiff to disclose certain documents. Importantly, while the nursing home cited arbitration as a defense, it never actually demanded arbitration or initiated arbitration proceedings. It was not until eight months later that the nursing home filed a motion to compel arbitration.

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Earlier this month, the West Virginia Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case requiring the court to decide whether a person’s mental incompetence can toll a statute of limitations. In other words, the question was whether a person’s inability to understand that they may have a viable case can actually excuse that person from filing a timely lawsuit. The court ultimately held that in some situations, including the one in front of it, a person’s incompetence may toll the statute of limitations.

HourglassThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the estate of a man who passed away while in the defendant nursing home’s care. According to the court’s opinion, the man resided at the defendant nursing home for 10 years. However, during the last several years, according to the man’s estate, the facility treated him poorly, ultimately leading to his early death.

The man’s estate filed the lawsuit approximately two years after the man died. At pre-trial hearings, the defendant attempted to limit the evidence that the plaintiff was permitted to submit to the court, arguing that some of the evidence was from before the allowable time period, according to the statute. The statute was a two-year statute.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a groundbreaking opinion extending potential liability in a nursing home abuse lawsuit to nurses who were required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but failed to do so. In the case, Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home, the court determined that the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act (AVAA), a state-enacted law to protect the elderly, creates a separate cause of action against those who are required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but fail to do so.

Lonely Old WomanThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in this case are the surviving loved ones of an elderly woman who was given a lethal dose of the pain-killer drug morphine. The drug was not prescribed by a physician but was administered by a nurse who was not a party to this lawsuit.

The defendants were two nurses who were not employed by the facility charged with caring for the deceased, and they were in no way responsible for her care. Both defendants were caring for another individual at the facility when they witnessed what appeared to be lapses in care. On March 28 or 29, one of the defendants witnessed the deceased lying on the floor. The defendant confronted the other nurse, who told the defendant that the patient “falls a lot” and that it was nothing out of the ordinary.

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Nursing homes should be places where people can feel at ease placing their aging parents to help them get the medical care and attention that they need in their final years. However, the reality of what nursing homes have come to become in our society is far from that. Partly since nursing homes operate on a for-profit model, the level of care provided to patients is secondary or tertiary to other concerns, including staffing costs.

Old HandsJust as in any other business scenario, nursing homes get what they pay for when they consider whom they should hire. By hiring inexperienced nurses or those with poor records or care, nursing homes may be able to save a few dollars in the short-term but place their patients at risk. Indeed, these are the very nurses who are likely to act in abusive or neglectful ways when placed under stress.

However, working in a stressful environment is no excuse to neglect or abuse another human being who has been placed in your care. For these reasons, the State of Maryland allows nursing home residents or their families to bring lawsuits against nursing home employees and management in situations in which the nursing home failed to adequately care for their loved one.

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Nursing homes that care for the elderly have an affirmative duty to provide for the basic needs of the residents for whom the home is charged with caring. This duty goes beyond a moral one, and it is actually legally imposed and enforceable by the courts. In fact, if a nursing home resident suffers any physical injury or psychological torment, the nursing home can be held legally responsible. Injured residents and their families may be entitled to substantial compensation based on the neglectful or abusive tendencies of nursing home staff.

hospital-bed-315869_960_720When the term nursing home neglect is thrown around, most imagine a busy nurse failing to attend to every need of their patients. Perhaps the nurse leaves a soiled diaper on a resident for too long, or delivers a meal later than desired. However, the truth about nursing home abuse is much more terrifying.

A Horrific Example of Nursing Home Neglect

Earlier last month, eight employees of an elderly care facility not far from Manchester, England were charged with the neglect of a patient. According to one local news source covering the disturbing story, the eight charged included the owner of the facility as well as the person responsible for keeping the man’s room clean.

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Nursing home abuse is a tragic phenomenon, and everything should be done to curb it. Whether it be an overworked nurse who snaps at a difficult resident, or an angry employee who takes out their own aggression on those who cannot fight back, there is no excuse for engaging in nursing home abuse. However, the sad reality is that nursing home abuse is grossly underreported, with many residents afraid to report the abuse of those who are responsible for their daily care out of fear of reprisal.

broken-glasses-1-1316764Despite that fact, one state is considering a bill that would eliminate a person’s ability to anonymously report nursing home abuse. According to an article by U.S. News and World Report, Illinois legislators are considering a bill that would require each complaint of nursing home abuse to be accompanied by the reporter’s name. If the person calling does not want to provide their name, the report will not be filed.

Of course, doing away with anonymous reporting will limit the number of complaints of abuse, which is why the nursing home industry is in favor of the bill. In fact, about 20% of all abuse allegations currently reported are done so through anonymous calls. While the bill’s sponsor claims that the names of reporters would be held confidential, the mere fact that callers are require to disclose their identity will likely result in fewer calls.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued an opinion in a case brought by the family of a man who died while in the care of a hospital, holding that the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint was in error. In the case, Fenimore v. Regents of the University of California, the court determined that the plaintiffs made sufficient allegations to survive the pre-trial dismissal stage, and the lower court erred when it dismissed the plaintiffs’ elder abuse claims.

hospital-7-1518169Pre-Trial Dismissal Is Rarely Appropriate

In many personal injury cases, the defendant will file a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case because the plaintiff’s case is insufficient as a matter of law. These motions, if granted, will result in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, and the plaintiff will be prevented from recovery. However, these motions are rarely successful, given the standard with which the court must consider them.

Summary judgment motions must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. In the case of a motion filed by the defendant, this means that the court should assume that the plaintiff can prove everything they claim happened in their pleadings. In other words, the quality of the evidence or the credibility of the witnesses is not a factor.

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Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion dismissing what may have been a meritorious wrongful death case based on the fact that the document giving the plaintiff power of attorney was not validly executed. In the case, Quarles v. Courtyard Gardens Health & Rehab, the lower court dismissed the plaintiff’s case based on two reasons, one of which was the fact that the power of attorney document was notarized after the decedent had signed it, rather than simultaneously, as the law requires.

document-428331_960_720The Facts of the Case

Bernie Jean Quarles, the decedent, spent 11 months at the defendant nursing home before she was moved to another facility. In June 2010, Quarles allegedly executed a power of attorney document in favor of her son, the plaintiff. A short time later, while his mother was still alive, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant nursing home on behalf of his mother, whom he claimed was “incapacitated.” The lawsuit alleged that the nursing home’s negligence resulted in the woman’s deteriorating health.

When the man’s mother died a few months later, he sought to substitute himself as the primary plaintiff. The parties were ordered to engage in arbitration to see if they could reach a mutually acceptable result. As a part of the mediation, the parties exchanged discovery. However, before arbitration began, the defendants asked the court to dismiss the case based on the fact that the power of attorney was never validly executed.

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