Articles Posted in Nursing Home News

Placing a loved one in the care of a Maryland nursing home is never an easy choice. While nursing homes are not known for providing residents with a stellar level of care, in some cases they are necessary when families are unable to care for their loved ones on their own.

Arbitration ContractUnfortunately, the instances of Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect have recently been on the rise over the past several years. While the law allows for families of abused or neglected nursing home residents to seek compensation for their loved one’s injuries in some cases, the ability of family members to pursue these cases may be limited if the current administration reverses a rule implemented last year.

Arbitration Clauses and Nursing Home Litigation

Before a resident is admitted into a nursing home, a family member must sign a pre-admission form. Hidden among other clauses in these forms is often an arbitration clause, which prevents the family of the resident from filing any case against the nursing home in a court of law. Instead, the clause requires the family to pursue any claim through binding arbitration.

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Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect have been serious issues confronting families and residents for decades. However, with the increasing popularity of social media outlets over the past decades, incidents of nursing home abuse seem to have skyrocketed. Not only has the number of claims increased, but also they have become more and more disturbing.

SelfieA recent trend in nursing homes across the country is the posting of nude, partially nude, or otherwise humiliating photographs of nursing home residents by those who are supposed to be caring for them. Nursing home employees may be motivated by frustration or a twisted idea of humor, but those who engage in this type of abuse are violating the duty of care they owe to the resident, and they are also likely violating criminal laws.

When this type of abuse occurs, it is important for family members to act quikcly. Social media posts can often be removed, leaving little or no evidence of abuse. An experienced nursing home abuse attorney can assist the family members of an abused or neglected nursing home resident in holding the responsible parties accountable through a Maryland nursing home abuse lawsuit. In many cases, the nursing home facility itself will be liable for the conduct of its employees.

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Tens of thousands of cases are filed in Maryland courts each year. To help the court system handle the large number of cases, procedural rules have been implemented to streamline the process and to ensure that only diligent plaintiffs with legally sound cases are permitted to have their cases heard by a judge or jury.

HourglassOne of the major procedural rules that courts require plaintiffs to follow is that a case must be filed within a certain amount of time, as outlined in the jurisdiction’s statute of limitations. If a plaintiff fails to file a case before the applicable statute of limitations expires, the court will be left with little choice but to dismiss the case, leaving the plaintiff with no avenue of recovery.

Over the past decade, states have begun to enact stricter requirements for many personal injury cases, especially medical malpractice cases and nursing home abuse and neglect cases. Indeed, according to a recent news article, West Virginia lawmakers have recently drafted and passed a bill that makes filing lawsuits against nursing homes much more difficult. Under the new law, the state’s statute of limitations was reduced from two years to one year. In addition, cases against nursing home facilities can only be filed in the county in which the nursing home is physically located.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of two nursing home residents who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. The case required the court to determine whether a state law was valid if it permitted a loved one of a nursing home resident to enter into binding arbitration only when they possess a power of attorney document that specifically mentions “access to the courts” as a conferred right. Ultimately, the court determined that the state law violated the Federal Arbitration Act.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of two loved ones who lived in the defendant nursing home prior to their deaths. Prior to the residents’ admission to the facility, the plaintiffs completed the necessary pre-admission paperwork for each of the residents. One clause in the document stated that “[a]ny and all claims or controversies arising out of or in any way relating to . . . the Resident’s stay at the Facility” would be resolved through binding arbitration. At the time the paperwork was completed, the plaintiffs had valid documents indicating that they possessed powers of attorney for their loved ones that permitted they “dispose of all matters” related to their loved ones.

In the next year, both residents died while in the care of the nursing home. The nursing home asked the court to dismiss the case and require the plaintiffs to submit their cases through the arbitration process, as indicated in the pre-admission contracts. The state court rejected the nursing home’s argument, finding that a person’s access to the court system is a “sacred” right, and it can only be waived by an explicit statement in the power of attorney document.

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A claim of negligent hiring is based on the idea that an employer has a duty to protect others from a risk of harm posed by employees of which the employer knows or should know. If an employer fails to exercise reasonable care to ensure that other employees and customers are not at risk of harm from its employees, the employer may be liable for negligent hiring. For example, an employer might be liable for hiring an employee with a violent criminal record and providing the employee with a firearm. Liability may also be appropriate when an employer fails to check an employee’s past employer references, which would have revealed that an employee was unfit for the position.

iPhoneIn Maryland, a negligent hiring claim requires the plaintiff to show:

  • The employer owed a duty to the injured person to use reasonable care in selecting its employees;
  • The employer’s conduct in hiring or retaining the employee was not reasonably prudent under the circumstances;
  • The employer’s failure to exercise reasonable care caused injuries to the plaintiff; and
  • The plaintiff suffered damages.

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Claims against nursing homes can arise in a variety of circumstances, including abuse, neglect, and failures to properly treat patients in their care. As a result, many of the claims against nursing homes and other long-term care facilities allege the facility was negligent in some way. As in any negligence claim, in a nursing home claim alleging negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, the breach caused the plaintiff’s injury, and the plaintiff sustained damages.

Hospital BedIn nursing home claims, after a plaintiff proves that a nursing home owed a duty to the resident, the next issue is whether the defendant’s conduct fell below the standard of care. This is the standard that a defendant is expected to meet under the circumstances present in the particular situation. In some cases, a nursing home resident may die at a nursing home, but the home may not be at fault. Thus, in order to establish liability, a plaintiff has to show that the facility did not properly care for the resident, and this conduct led to the resident’s injuries. A recent case shows the type of evidence necessary to succeed in a nursing home negligence lawsuit.

Jury Awards Family $450,000 After Resident Dies from Infection

A jury recently found a rehabilitation center was negligent in its care of a blind, diabetic resident,
and it awarded the man’s family $450,000 in damages. According to one news source, the man, a 79-year-old retired tractor mechanic, died in November 2014, just a month after he was admitted to the center. The evidence presented at trial showed that the man was on dialysis and developed an infection in his big toe that turned gangrenous and that led to his right leg being amputated and ultimately to his death.

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Late last month, one lawmaker introduced the Protecting Access to Care Act, which, among other things, would limit certain damages awards to the victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. While the Act does not mention nursing home victims specifically, the broad changes proposed by the Act would, in effect, limit the availability of non-economic damages for nursing home abuse and neglect victims. It would also limit the amount of compensation nursing home abuse and neglect victims could receive for their pain and suffering.

Capitol BuildingThe Act

According to one news source, a proponent of the Act claims that it will “throw blame out the window” and will allow for all involved parties to focus on how to prevent accidents rather than engage in post-accident litigation. The Act applies to anyone covered under Medicare, Medicaid, military health plans, and the Affordable Care Act, and caps damages against doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes in many situations. In addition, the Act would provide legal immunity to pharmaceutical companies whose products harm patients, so long as the product was FDA-approved.

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In all personal injury cases, both the plaintiff and the defendant must exchange certain information and documents with each other that they plan to use at trial or that may be helpful for the other side in proving or defending against the case. This is called pre-trial discovery. Often, there is significant litigation surrounding the pre-trial discovery process because parties may not want to disclose everything in their possession for fear of helping their opponents.

DocumentsIn cases naming a nursing home, hospital, or medical professional as a defendant, the argument that a defendant often uses to withhold what may otherwise be mandatory discovery is that the request documents are “privileged” and need not be disclosed. For a document to be considered privileged, there must be some underlying statute or rule stating that is the case. A common example of privileged information is the communication between an attorney and his clients.

Illinois Nursing Home Is Ordered to Release Documents It Claimed Were Privileged

Earlier this month, an appellate court in Illinois issued an opinion that required a nursing home to release certain requested documents to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Originally, the nursing home refused to release the documents, claiming that they were privileged under the state’s Medical Studies Act. The Medical Studies Act protects “records, reports, statements, notes or other data” that is related to the internal quality control measures of a nursing home. The idea behind the privilege is that the government does not want to discourage nursing homes from seeking to improve care by internally acknowledging that they could have done things differently in the past and potentially avoided an accident.

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Over the past few decades, arbitration clauses have become ubiquitous in the contracts that residents (or their family members) must sign prior to being admitted into the nursing home. These arbitration clauses may act to prevent a nursing home resident or their family from pursuing any legal action in the court system against the nursing home. Instead, these claims are settled through an arbitration company that will hear both sides and issue a binding decision. Arbitration clauses are enforced without regard to the strength of the evidence, meaning that even the strongest cases of nursing home abuse and neglect may be prevented from ever reaching a courtroom.

DocumentThe problem for nursing home residents and their families is that the nursing home selects the arbitration company in the pre-admission contract. As a result, the companies that are selected are potentially biased in favor of nursing homes. Additionally, the language of the arbitration clause is often buried deep in dense paragraphs, making it unlikely that potential residents or their family members will read and comprehend the rights they are giving up by signing the contract. This has led many arbitration contracts to be held to be invalid as a matter of law and also as a matter of good public policy.

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Nursing home abuse and neglect have a well-documented history throughout the United States. Sadly, many of the victims of this abuse suffer from serious physical and mental health disorders, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Since the advent and expansion of social media, this unfortunate trend has accelerated. In fact, the problem has become so common that many state legislatures are looking for ways to curb the rampant nursing home abuse and neglect epidemic.

Security CameraAccording to one local news source servicing the Chicago area, Illinois lawmakers have recently passed a bill that will provide funding to install 100,000 cameras in nursing home facilities across the state. The bill, which would not allow for the installation of cameras without a resident’s consent, allocates a $50,000 budget annually to install and service the cameras. It is hoped that the presence of cameras will act not only to provide evidence of abuse after the fact but also to serve as a deterrent to nursing home employees.

Advocates of the bill call it a “win-win for all stakeholders,” explaining that truly innocent nursing home employees who has been wrongfully accused will be able to rely on the video footage to help prove the allegations were unfounded. However, it is expected that the policy will be met with some resistance from the nursing home industry, which is no doubt aware of the fact that the installation of cameras in facilities may result in exposure to additional liability through increased reporting of abuse and neglect.

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