When we discuss civil liability that can arise from care of elders in a nursing home, we typically describe such negligence as inadequate living conditions, negligent nurses and orderlies, ignorance of medical needs, even physical, emotional, and verbal abuse. Often, it’s exactly this kind of behavior from nursing home owners and employees that leads to lawsuits. But a new study from Cornell University-Weill Cornell Medical College brings some attention to an often overlooked form of abuse that is growing in the elder care community: elder-on-elder violence. In other words, residents behaving violently toward other residents.
The study, which focused on ten facilities based in New York State, found that “one in five nursing home residents … were involved in at least one aggressive encounter with fellow residents during the four weeks previous to the study.” These statistics are shocking, and the reader is encouraged to click the above link to read about the study in full.
From the perspective of a New York nursing home attorney, the key point to emphasize here is that just because a resident, rather than an employee, physically harms another resident, this does not mean that a nursing care facility is completely absolved of responsibility for that harm. Nursing homes are tasked with a legal duty to actively prevent these types of incidents from happening. This is an integral part of the responsibility a nursing home takes on when it opens for business.
When a nursing home ignores that duty, we properly call it negligence. After all, if these elders were of entirely sound mind and body they would presumably not require the round-the-clock care of a nursing home. The nursing home brings in these residents with the full knowledge that they require constant attention and supervision in part to prevent them from hurting themselves or each other. When a nursing home fails to provide such supervision and harm results, the nursing home is directly liable for that negligence.
Certain factors can increase the legal blame placed on a nursing home for a resident-on-resident injury. That is, if a court or jury found certain aggravating conditions, a nursing home could find itself liable for additional damages, including punitive, beyond what it would in a case of so-called “mere negligence.” If, for example, a nursing home hired employees without performing proper background checks, and this led to harm, that could be seen as an example of particularly gross negligence. If a resident with a violent behavioral history was welcomed into the facility and not closely supervised, increased liability could result. In terms of elder-on-elder abuse resulting in harm, an attorney should properly evaluate all possible aggravating factors: hiring, training, responses to altercations, and the general day-to-day oversight of the elderly population.
The types of incidents highlighted by the Cornell study are disturbing in the extreme, from cases of biting, kicking, and hitting, to sexual abuse. Considering that these forms of abuse are happening to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, it is that much more important to keep nursing homes alert and on notice for these forms of harm, through both proper regulation and civil lawsuits.
If your loved one has suffered harm because of an incident of elder-on-elder abuse, talk to a lawyer who specializes in nursing home liability. Click this link to contact our firm to learn more about your options.