Articles Posted in Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes

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.

WalkerGiven 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.

ContractThe 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.

ThermometerIn 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.

CaretakerA 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.

Hospital BedsThe 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.

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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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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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.

i-m-still-mobile-1429305This 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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Earlier this month, a Kentucky judge ordered a nursing home to pay the estate of one of the home’s prior residents $18 million after it was determined that the home was responsible for the wrongful death of the resident. According to one local news report, the woman spent the five years prior to her death in the nursing facility, but towards the end of her life she suffered greatly due to a lack of care.

wheelchair-1576246Evidently, the deceased resident was allegedly forced to remain in soiled briefs for extended periods of time before a nursing home employee attended to her needs and changed her. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that there was evidence this was the policy of the nursing facility in order to save on the costs of the one-time-use briefs.

It is also alleged that the woman developed severe bed sores, resulting in her nerve endings becoming exposed. Ultimately, she did develop a number of serious infections, including E. coli. She also had developed severe skin rashes and lost the use of her arms and legs while in the facility.

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Earlier this year in a Maryland nursing home, the family of an 85-year-old woman who died in an nursing home filed suit against the facility that was supposed to be caring for their loved one. According to one local news report, the family claims that their loved one died without any staff member at her side, despite hours of complaints of pain and requests for help from family members.

hospital-437674-mEvidently, the family of the woman was at the nursing home just 30 hours before her death, and they recorded their loved one in agony, moaning and crying for help. Allegedly, despite the woman’s efforts, as well as those of her family members, no nursing home staff member came to attend to or to assist the woman. Eventually, her family left her side, and 30 hours later she died.

The woman’s family filed a case against the nursing home, alleging that the home’s negligence was the cause of the woman’s early death. The woman’s daughter-in-law told reporters that she was pleading with the nursing staff, “Why can’t you help her? Why you gotta get somebody? Why can’t you just help her?”

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