Court Holds Failure to Comply with Mandatory Nursing Home Abuse Reporting Requirements May Give Rise to Liability

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a groundbreaking opinion extending potential liability in a nursing home abuse lawsuit to nurses who were required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but failed to do so. In the case, Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home, the court determined that the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act (AVAA), a state-enacted law to protect the elderly, creates a separate cause of action against those who are required to report discovered instances of nursing home abuse but fail to do so.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in this case are the surviving loved ones of an elderly woman who was given a lethal dose of the pain-killer drug morphine. The drug was not prescribed by a physician but was administered by a nurse who was not a party to this lawsuit.

The defendants were two nurses who were not employed by the facility charged with caring for the deceased, and they were in no way responsible for her care. Both defendants were caring for another individual at the facility when they witnessed what appeared to be lapses in care. On March 28 or 29, one of the defendants witnessed the deceased lying on the floor. The defendant confronted the other nurse, who told the defendant that the patient “falls a lot” and that it was nothing out of the ordinary.

The next day, the second defendant was treating her patient at the same facility when her patient told the defendant that the nurse caring for the deceased was giving her morphine. The nurse called the Department of Human Services but was unable to get through. She left a message. Ultimately, the patient passed away due to an intentionally administered lethal dose of morphine. The deceased’s family filed suit against both nurses who were witness to the lapses in care but failed to take immediate action.

The Issue at Trial

The issue at trial was whether the defendant nurses – who were not in charge of caring for the deceased – could be held liable under the AVAA for failing to report and follow up on abuse they witnessed. It was undisputed that the defendants were “mandatory reporters” under the Act and were required to report any abuse they discovered in the course of their employment. However, whether they could be held personally liable for a failure to do so was an issue that had not been decided.

The court ultimately determined that a failure to report abuse by a party that is required to do so can result in liability. The court explained that it was the legislature’s intent to create such a cause of action, although it was not specifically delineated in the language of the statute. Because of this ruling, the plaintiffs will be permitted to bring the lawsuit against the nurses, although the ultimate outcome of the case is not yet certain.

Has Your Loved One Suffered in a Maryland Nursing Home?

If you have a loved one whom you know has been or was at one time suffering from nursing home abuse, you may have a legal cause of action against one or more parties. This case, while arising under Washington state law, may be instructive to Maryland courts. To learn more about nursing home abuse cases, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated Maryland personal injury attorney. Calling is free and will not result in any obligation on your part unless we can ultimately help you obtain the recovery you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Elder Abuse Case, Allowing the Case to Move Forward, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published April 21, 2016.

Nursing Home Resident Dies After Being Left Outside in the Sun, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, published May 13, 2016.

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