Articles Posted in Nursing Home Negligence

One of the most significant hurdles Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect cases face early in the process is overcoming a defense motion for summary judgment. Summary judgment is a mechanism by which either party – although very often the defense in personal injury cases – asks the court to resolve the case because the other party cannot legally win the case based on the evidence presented.

StethoscopeA nursing home abuse or neglect plaintiff can overcome a defense motion for summary judgment by showing that there is some issue of material fact that should be resolved by a jury. However, if no issues of fact are present – and the only issues are legal in nature – the court will enter summary judgment in favor of the moving party. A recent case illustrates how one trial court applied the summary judgment standard incorrectly.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of an elderly woman who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The resident was admitted to the nursing home in March 2012 after being discharged from the hospital. Upon admission, the resident suffered from severe pulmonary and kidney conditions. Initially, the resident showed signs of improvement; however, about two months after her admission, the resident’s health began to decline due to a septic infection. The resident died from complications relating to the infection a short time later.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued an interesting opinion in a case involving allegations that a nursing home was negligent in the care of a resident. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss an arbitration clause contained in a contract that also contained a legally invalid clause regarding a related issue. Ultimately, the court concluded that the invalid clause could properly be severed from the rest of the contract. Thus, the arbitration agreement was found to be valid.

ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the loved one of a woman who was injured while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to the resident’s admission, she signed a pre-admission contract containing a clause agreeing to submit any claims that arose between herself and the nursing home to binding arbitration. There was also a clause stating that each party would be responsible for their own attorney’s fees, regardless of the claim’s outcome. Finally, the contract contained a “severability” clause.

Notwithstanding the arbitration agreement, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the nursing home. In a pre-trial motion for summary judgment, the nursing home sought the dismissal of the case, based on the signed arbitration agreement. The court determined that the attorney’s fees provision violated public policy, rendering the contract (and the arbitration clause contained therein) invalid. The nursing home appealed.

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Nurses employed by private nursing homes often have very difficult jobs. Private nursing homes are for-profit businesses that are primarily motivated by the bottom line. This means that the lower that staffing costs are, the more money that nursing home management or investors can take home at the end of the day. This pressure can incentivize nursing home management to keep as few nurses on the clock as possible.

Wrinkled HandsFor a nurse who is just trying to do her job, fewer nurses on the floor means more work. Often, nurses will have to take on additional patients due to “staffing shortages.” Since nurses are human, the more stress placed upon them, the more likely that they are to make a mistake.

Of course, being busy and overstressed is not an excuse to make a mistake that can cost someone their life, but it does tend to explain why so many serious instances of neglect and serious medical errors occur in nursing home facilities across the country.

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It is common for anyone seeking admission into a nursing home to be presented with an arbitration agreement prior to being admitted. These arbitration clauses are often hidden in large paragraphs of small print and are easy to overlook. However, once signed, arbitration clauses often waive important rights and can have a major effect on a party’s ability to file a lawsuit against the nursing home, should anything go wrong in the future.

Binding ContractWhile a valid arbitration agreement may prevent a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect from using the court system to pursue a case against the at-fault nursing home, not all arbitration agreements are valid. In fact, a series of recent court decisions across the country has indicated courts’ willingness to declare arbitration agreements invalid when they are not signed by the appropriate party, too hidden, or entered into by an incompetent party.

A recent case out of Florida illustrates how courts may choose to invalidate an arbitration agreement when the person signing the contract is not the resident themselves.

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A family’s worst nightmare may be that their loved one is being abused in a long-term care facility, but neglect is another form of mistreatment, and can also have devastating consequences. Neglect is the failure to care for a person in a manner that would avoid harm and pain, or the failure to react to a situation that may be harmful. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional. Examples of unintentional but neglectful care include: incorrect body positioning, lack of assistance eating and drinking, lack of bathing, and ignoring calls for help.

Dark HallwayAbuse and neglect often are not obvious, but there may be signs that can hint at both. Some of these signs are dehydration, malnutrition, bruises, food poisoning, poor hygiene, bed sores, falls, and wandering. There are different statutes and regulations that protect the rights of senior citizens and nursing home residents.

Rights of Nursing Home Residents

Nursing home residents have the right to live in a safe environment and to be free from mistreatment. Mistreatment involves abuse, including physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse, neglect, or the failure to provide proper care to a resident, and exploitation, or the illegal or improper use of a resident’s money or belongings.

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A recently published local news article discusses allegations of abuse that have resulted in state authorities preventing a privately owned nursing facility from admitting new residents until the allegations are properly investigated and any necessary remedial action is taken. Although the report notes that state prosecutors appear unlikely to pursue criminal charges against the parties responsible for the alleged abuse, victims of the abuse or neglect may still have claims for financial damages by filing a civil nursing home abuse or nursing home neglect lawsuit with the help of experienced legal counsel.

CourtroomState Administrative Report Details Abuse Against at Least Eight Residents

According to the report, the state regulatory authority was the first to receive notice that there was possible abuse or neglect occurring at the Brookhaven Manor nursing home in Kingsport, Tennessee. Authorities suspended the nursing home from taking new residents after an initial investigation found credible evidence corroborating the claims of abuse and neglect.

While these reports of abuse and neglect detail conduct that would certainly be criminal under state law, the prosecuting attorney’s office expressed doubt that any charges would be pursued. The attorney noted frustration with the fact that his office was not notified of any of the allegations or allowed to perform any investigation until after the state administratively sanctioned the home. This compromised the investigation by giving allegedly culpable parties an opportunity to tamper with evidence of wrongdoing.

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An article recently published by an NBC affiliate in New York helps document a disturbing trend of nursing home abuse and neglect that appears to be caused by understaffed nursing homes, as well as a lack of adequate training and competence among existing staff. According to the news report, an elderly nursing home resident and her family have filed a nursing home abuse lawsuit against a New Jersey nursing home after the resident was allegedly left covered in her own feces for hours as the nursing home staff failed to answer her calls for assistance. Although the proceedings are only in the early stages, the defendant has issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and attempting to discredit the plaintiffs’ claims.

HandNursing Care Is Facing an Epidemic of Neglect and Incompetence

Many factors result in the recent increase in nursing home abuse and neglect complaints, which are often focused on the duties of lower-level staff, such as nursing aides and assistants. Many nursing home residents are not physically active and have few visitors or family members to check up on them. When neglect or abuse does occur, some patients are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone about it, or they may not know what their rights are or how to make a claim. The majority of funding for nursing home care comes from the federal government through Medicare, and providers have been known to take advantage of the lack of accountability for government funds by employing too few workers and hiring low-cost, incompetent employees to provide care.

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According to a recent article, a resident at a nursing home in New York died after choking on a grilled cheese sandwich provided by nursing home staff. The women had been diagnosed with dementia and required dentures to chew her food, but she was not wearing her dentures at the time she choked on the sandwich. The woman’s son is suing the nursing home for damages due to negligence on the part of nursing home staff.

Dentures

As Americans live longer and the population continues to age, more and more adults find themselves moving into assisted-living facilities or nursing homes. These facilities provide a wide range of services, including medical care, food services, and assistance with many activities of daily living, like taking a shower, getting dressed, and using the toilet.

Providing such a wide range of services comes with responsibility. In Maryland, nursing homes and assisted living providers must take reasonable care when providing these services, and a failure to take such care is considered negligence. When negligence is committed, residents or their family members may be eligible for compensation for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence.

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The executor of a deceased former resident’s estate has filed a wrongful death claim against a Chicago area nursing home on behalf of the woman’s surviving family members. According to a local news source, the family is seeking damages for the woman’s wrongful death, which was allegedly caused by the negligence of the employees and management of the nursing facility where she died. The lawsuit was filed on August 10 in Illinois state court and is seeking over $50,000 in damages, according to the news source.

WheelchairsThe Plaintiffs Allege that the Defendants Failed to Adequately Supervise the Condition of the Deceased Resident

The plaintiffs in the case of Rodriguez v. Aperion Care International are the surviving family members of a woman who died earlier this year while living at a nursing home facility operated by the defendants. According to the allegations discussed in the news article, the woman died after suffering from skin breakdown and pressure ulcers that she developed while bedridden at the defendant’s facility. These conditions, which allegedly led to her death, are commonly known as bedsores and are generally preventable if residents are cared for properly.

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While nursing homes are charged with the duty to care for each of their many residents, the reality is that not all nursing homes take that duty to heart. In fact, almost all nursing homes are for-profit enterprises that, at the end of the day, must account for the costs of labor, supplies, and other expenses. Such an influence may incentivize nursing home management to cut corners in relation to the quality of care they provide the residents in their care.

WalkersThis may be nowhere more true than in the case of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, who for one reason or another suffer from nursing home abuse and neglect at higher rates than non-intellectually disabled residents. Indeed, according to one news article reporting on the plight of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, several states are currently facing lawsuits based on the inadequate services provided to these individuals.

Evidently, a federal judge in San Antonio, Texas recently granted class-action status to a group of nearly 4,000 intellectually disabled nursing home residents across the state. The allegations in that case are that the State of Texas has done little if anything to secure a safe place for these individuals, often placing them in homes that are patently unequipped to handle the residents’ needs.

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