Articles Posted in Nursing Home Negligence

funeralProving damages is an essential part of any Maryland nursing home claim. In a recent case before a federal appeals court, the court upheld a punitive damages award of over $4 million in a case where the compensatory damages award totaled just $650,000.

The Facts of the Case

In that case, the plaintiffs brought three wrongful death claims against a nursing home after three residents died at the home. The nursing home had a special “vent unit” for ventilator-dependent patients. The plaintiffs claimed that the three residents, who were ventilator-dependent patients, died because of the nursing home’s inadequate staffing and inadequate supplies.

One resident received an anoxic brain injury during the night and was found with his ventilator and all his alarms turned off. Another patient was found dead with her breathing apparatus pulled from her neck and without an alarm or oxygen monitor. Both deaths were found to be caused by understaffing. The third resident died because staff was not able to replace her tracheostomy tube in a timely manner due to a lack of supplies. The case went to trial and the jury awarded the plaintiffs $650,000 total in compensatory damages, and also awarded each plaintiff $1,523,939.16 in punitive damages.

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If a resident of a Maryland nursing home has signed an arbitration agreement, they will be prevented from filing a case against the nursing home in court and must instead pursue their claim through the arbitration process. Thus, one of the earliest and most important considerations in a Maryland nursing home abuse or neglect case is whether there is a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement.Legal News Gavel

Most nursing homes present residents with an arbitration agreement. Often, these agreements are buried deep in dense paragraphs, and they may not be fully understood by residents. Importantly, the fact that an arbitration agreement exists is not necessarily determinative of whether a resident will be forced to arbitrate their claim; courts will review arbitration clauses as well as the manner in which they were entered into before determining whether the agreement can be enforced.

One issue that frequently comes up in nursing home negligence and abuse cases in which an arbitration clause is present is whether the party that signed the contract had authority to do so. In a recent case decided by a federal appellate court, the court held that verbal consent given by a resident – rather than the typical document granting power of attorney – was acceptable to form a binding contract.

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Abuse and neglect are serious problems in Maryland nursing homes, and in nursing homes across the country. Earlier this month, prosecutors who initially filed criminal charges against two nurses based on the allegedly negligent care they provided to residents asked the judge to dismiss the case. According to a local news report, despite the nurses’ claims that they had been taking care of a resident, video evidence showed that they did not step foot in her room for 17 hours. The video also showed that the nurses repeatedly left the elderly woman naked in her bed with the door wide open.Legal News Gavel

Evidently, after the family discovered the nursing home neglect, they reported it to the authorities, and charges were initially filed. However, prosecutors recently asked the judge to dismiss the case in favor of allowing the state board of nursing to handle any disciplinary sanctions. The board would have the power to revoke the nurses’ licenses and place them on the registry of known abusers.

Although the prosecutors did not come right out and say it, what seems to be motivating their decision is the fact that in Iowa, where the abuse occurred, there is no statute allowing nursing home residents to install cameras to monitor staff. Thus, the prosecutors may be fearful that if they brought the case, the video would be inadmissible at trial, and this may create a bad precedent moving forward.

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Over the past several decades, there has been a societal shift in the United States toward a household in which both parents work out of the home. Indeed, as of 2016, roughly two-thirds of all families were composed of two income earners. Most often, this means both parents are away from the home during the day.

Legal News GavelUnlike in years past, today’s working families do not have the ability to care for their aging loved ones. This has correspondingly led to an increase in the number of elderly people being admitted to nursing homes. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 3.5 million nursing home residents. And while Maryland nursing homes present a good solution in theory, in reality, nursing homes are rarely “as advertised.”

Too often, nursing homes are understaffed with underqualified employees. This creates a situation in which abuse and neglect are rampant. Indeed, it is estimated that over 40% of nursing home residents will experience some form of abuse during their stay, and nearly 90% of nursing home residents report being neglected. Given the limited interaction between a nursing home resident and the outside world, it is believed that these figures may be an underestimation.

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When a Maryland nursing home accepts a resident into their care, the nursing home assumes an affirmative duty to provide an acceptable level of care to the resident. This entails ensuring that all physical needs are met, including the administration of medication, allowing residents to use the restroom as often as needed, and ensuring that residents get the appropriate level of nutrition.

Legal News GavelGiven the tasks involved, running a nursing home is not an easy business, and many nursing homes operate on thin margins. Thus, nursing home management often are in a position in which they are trying to staff the home with the fewest number of employees possible. While this saves money, it also can prevent residents from obtaining the care necessary to live in a safe and secure environment.

When a nursing home fails to provide sufficient coverage to care for the needs of its residents, and a resident suffers harm as a result of this failure, that resident or their family may be able to obtain financial compensation for any injuries caused by the home’s negligence. Of course, a Maryland nursing home neglect plaintiff must be able to establish each element of their claim by introducing admissible evidence. Often, this consists of direct evidence, such as video recordings or witness testimony. However, nursing home neglect cases can also proceed on circumstantial evidence of abuse or neglect. This would include otherwise unexplainable bruises or bedsores.

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Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, or vicarious liability, an employer is generally responsible for the acts of its employees if they are acting in the scope of their employment. Therefore, if a Maryland nursing home staff member abuses a nursing home resident, the nursing home may be responsible for the employee’s actions as long as the staff member was acting within the scope of their employment.

Legal News Gavel“Nanny Cam” Leads to Arrests of Two Nursing Home Staff

A hidden camera recently led to the arrest of two Georgia women on elder abuse charges, according to one news source. An 89-year-old resident was living at a nursing home in Georgia when his family installed a “nanny cam” in his room to monitor his well-being because they were concerned about him. According to the news report, the video showed staff physically and mentally abusing the resident.

The resident was recovering from pneumonia and needed extra help with feeding and personal hygiene. According to police, two staff members in the room were frustrated with him and “were treating him pretty roughly.” The sheriff said that at one point, the resident was having a hard time keeping his dentures in while he was eating, and one of the staff members hit him to get the dentures back in. The staff also hit him in the face after he spit some food out of his mouth, cussed at him, and threatened to hit him. One of the staff members, who was 37 years old, was arrested on four counts of elder abuse, and the other staff member, who was 45 years old, was charged with one count of elder abuse.

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Nursing homes are required to provide residents with a safe environment, free from abuse and neglect. However, whether a nursing facility violated the “standard of care” is often disputed in Maryland nursing home negligence cases.

Legal News GavelDetermining the standard of care is important in a nursing home case, particularly in cases alleging that a nursing home was negligent in caring for a resident. To show that a nursing facility was negligent, a plaintiff has to demonstrate that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff, the defendant breached its duty, the plaintiff suffered an injury or loss, and the injury or loss was caused by the defendant’s breach. In order to demonstrate that a nursing home breached its duty, the plaintiff has to show that the home’s conduct failed to meet the applicable standard of care under the circumstances.

The standard of care may be set forth in a statute or regulation, which can serve as the standard by which the court can measure the nursing home’s conduct. For example, a nursing home’s violation of a law or regulation may allow a court to presume a nursing home was negligent. Some courts have also found that the federal Nursing Home Reform Law provides the standard of care for nursing homes. In many cases, an expert is required to explain how the facility’s conduct failed to meet the standard of care.

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There are a number of potential causes of action that plaintiffs may be able to bring in Maryland nursing home cases. Some potential causes of action include negligence, battery, wrongful death, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and violation of consumer protection laws.

Legal News GavelOne of the most common causes of action is negligence. It can be brought against a long-term care facility if the facility is negligent in caring for the resident or if the home is negligent in training or supervising its staff. To establish a negligence cause of action, a plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff suffered an actual injury or loss, and the injury or loss proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty.

Another potential cause of action is the infliction of emotional distress. Although it is a high bar, to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the conduct must be intentional or reckless, as well as extreme and outrageous. Additionally, the plaintiff must have suffered severe emotional distress, and there has to be a causal connection between the conduct and the emotional distress. Furthermore, in addition to these claims, facilities may be liable for failing to have adequate policies in place to prevent abuse or for failing to report allegations of abuse.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a personal injury case presenting an interesting issue that often arises in Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases. The case required the court to determine if an arbitration agreement was valid when it was signed by a resident’s family member who possessed a valid power of attorney at the time the document was executed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the decision of whether to admit someone to a nursing home constitutes a “health care decision,” which was not a right conferred by the power of attorney document.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a woman who died shortly after leaving the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the resident’s admission, the resident had executed two relevant documents. The first, executed in 2006, was a health-care power of attorney executed in favor of the plaintiff. The second, executed in 2010, was a personal-care power of attorney executed in favor of the plaintiff as well as the resident’s sister.

After the second document was executed, the resident’s sister placed the resident in the defendant nursing home. Prior to admitting the resident, the resident’s sister executed a pre-admission contract that contained an arbitration clause whereby both parties agreed to submit any claim that arose between the two to binding arbitration rather than the court system.

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When a Maryland nursing home accepts a resident into its care, the home takes on a responsibility to provide a certain level of care to the resident. Of course, this includes ensuring that the resident’s most basic physical and health-care needs are met, but it also requires that the home maintain the facility in a safe and clean manner. When nursing home management fails to live up to this standard, the home may be held liable through a Maryland nursing home negligence lawsuit.

Legal News GavelMany nursing homes accept financial assistance from the federal government, through programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. By doing so, the nursing home also takes on an obligation to provide the type of care to residents that the government expects. A recent news article discusses a federal lawsuit that was recently settled after disturbing discoveries were made regarding the condition of the facilities.

The allegations arose from inspections that occurred back in 2008 and 2009. Inspectors noted that the home was infested with rats, mice, and cockroaches. One resident’s account was truly shocking. Evidently, the bedridden resident was complaining of leg pain to nursing home staff. When the staff member pulled back the blankets covering the resident’s lower body, a snake jumped out at her.

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