Articles Posted in Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes

stomach painNursing home residents in Maryland and across the country can be at great risk when left unattended, particularly if they have diminished mental capacity. In a recent case before a federal appeals court, a patient who had Alzheimer’s disease allegedly wandered from her room while unattended and died after she drank detergent she found in a kitchen cabinet.

The patient’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home, claiming the nursing home understaffed the home and failed to sufficiently secure the kitchen cabinet. The case went to trial and a jury found that the nursing home was liable for the patient’s death, awarding the patient’s estate $5.08 million. The nursing home agreed not to appeal but settled with the patient’s estate for $3.65 million, and the court set aside the judgment.

The nursing home later sued a contractor for contractual indemnification and breach of contract. The contractor provided kitchen and dining services at the nursing home, and the home alleged the contractor was liable for the patient’s death. The contractor claimed that the claims were barred by issue preclusion because the jury had already decided the nursing home was negligent.

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arbitration agreementThese days, many Maryland nursing home admission agreements often include arbitration contracts or clauses, which require certain claims against the nursing facility to be resolved through arbitration. However, under some circumstances, such agreements may not be enforceable. In one recent case, a plaintiff claimed that the arbitration agreement was not enforceable because the agreement was unconscionable.

In that case, a nursing home resident died in the facility and her husband filed a wrongful death claim against the nursing facility. The husband alleged that the nursing home’s staff negligently allowed his wife to fall multiple times, which ultimately led to her death. The facility filed a motion to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement that was signed between the resident and the facility. The husband claimed that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and could not be enforced.

In that case, there was a signed arbitration agreement, which was separate from the admission agreement. The heading on the cover page read, “EXPLANATION OF BINDING ARBITRATION AGREEMENT,” and stated, “PLEASE READ CAREFULLY.” The cover page of the arbitration agreement stated that the agreement was “voluntary and not a condition for admission” and that the resident could consult with an attorney before signing the agreement. The agreement also stated that the resident could withdraw her consent within thirty days of signing. The resident could do this by writing “CANCELLED” on the agreement and mailing it to the facility. The resident and her husband signed the arbitration agreement and did not withdraw consent within 30 days.

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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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Earlier this month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury lawsuit discussing the validity of an arbitration agreement. The court ultimately concluded that the arbitration agreement, which was signed by the plaintiff on behalf of his deceased father, was not enforceable against the plaintiff to preclude a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant nursing home facility.

Legal News GavelThe case is important to Maryland nursing home litigants because, like the statute discussed in the case, Maryland’s wrongful death statute creates an independent claim that is not derivative of the rights of the deceased.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff’s father was a resident in the defendant nursing home. Prior to being admitted to the nursing home, the resident was required to sign a pre-admission contract containing an arbitration agreement. The resident, however, was unable to sign the form due to his physical condition. The form was stamped “unable to sign,” and the plaintiff signed the form on his father’s behalf. Underneath his signature, the plaintiff wrote “son.”

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While Maryland nursing homes all have a duty to provide a safe place for residents, nursing home management routinely makes decisions that put residents at risk. Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, 12 people died in a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. According to reports at the time, the nursing home’s management had failed to secure a back-up power source in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma’s arrival. When Hurricane Irma came in as strong as expected and knocked out power in the area, the nursing home residents were left in 90-degree heat with no air conditioning.

Legal News GavelIn all, 12 nursing home residents died, most from dehydration or heat exhaustion. A subsequent investigation revealed that the temperature in the nursing home exceeded 99 degrees in some areas.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the State of Florida moved to revoke the nursing home’s license. Of course, the nursing home is contesting the revocation of its license. As a part of the process, an attorney for the nursing home recently deposed a lieutenant with the Hollywood Fire Department. According to a recent article, the lieutenant’s answers to many of the questions – including whether she saw other nursing home residents who seemed to be suffering from the heat – were “I don’t recall.”

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When a Maryland nursing home accepts a resident into its care, the nursing home takes on a responsibility to provide a certain level of care for the resident. In most cases, this duty requires that nursing home staff provide the resident with any care, including medical care, needed by the resident. However, in certain situations, a nursing home’s duty expands, depending on the circumstances.

Legal News GavelA good example of when a nursing home’s duty can expand is detailed in a recent article discussing a tragic situation in which eight nursing home residents died in the wake of Hurricane Irma, due to a power failure in a nursing home. According to the recent report, despite ample notice of the storm’s severity and the potential for upcoming disaster, the nursing home did not secure any back-up power source.

Thus, when the nursing home lost power a day into the storm, residents were left without the electricity necessary to power medical devices as well as the home’s air conditioning system. By some accounts, temperatures reached up to 106 degrees. Several residents were able to be moved to a hospital that was across the street that had secured back-up generators in anticipation of power loss. However, eight residents died as a result of the power outage in the nursing home.

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Often, nursing home residents are elderly and sick, which is why many families bring their family members to a nursing home in the first place. Thus, a family member’s death in a nursing home may not always be cause for alarm. However, the fact that a family member was sick or elderly before their death does not absolve the nursing home of all responsibility.

Legal News GavelThe purpose of a wrongful death claim is to compensate family members for the loss of their family member’s life due to the wrongful act of another person. Originally, under Maryland law, a person’s dependents were not entitled to bring a wrongful death claim. However, in 1852, Maryland enacted the Wrongful Death Act. In Maryland, a wrongful death claim can be made “against a person whose wrongful act causes the death of another.” Normally, the claim must be made within three years of the family member’s death.

Claim Against Nursing Home for Failure to Resuscitate

One family recently brought a lawsuit against a nursing home after a mother died in the nursing home’s care, according to one news source. The family alleges that the nursing home’s staff failed to attempt to revive their mother after she was found “lifeless.”

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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.

Legal News GavelFor 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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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.

Legal News GavelThe 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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While nursing homes are supposed to be a safe place for our loved ones, sometimes that is not the case. Two of the most serious problems almost all nursing homes face are understaffing and inexperienced nurses. These problems can result in serious symptoms seen in the home’s day-to-day management. For example, overworked and inexperienced employees often feel as though they never get a break, and they may become frustrated with not just the home’s management but also their patients.

Legal News GavelThis frustration is dangerous. Most nursing home residents are placed in homes because they cannot care for themselves and require that others help them with their day-to-day tasks, such as bathing, using the bathroom, personal grooming, taking medication, and visiting the doctor. When a nurse or other nursing home employee is too frustrated to deal with an employee, they may neglect the needs of that individual. In a vulnerable population like the elderly, this can result in serious or fatal consequences.

Maryland law allows for the families of nursing home abuse and nursing home negligence victims to file a civil lawsuit against the home as well as the offending employees. Of course, in order to bring such a lawsuit, a plaintiff will need to establish that they are related to the resident. They must also prove that the nursing home’s negligence or intentional misconduct resulted in the injuries sustained by their loved one. If they are successful, the family member may be entitled to monetary compensation for the suffering their loved one was forced to endure.

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