Unfortunately, nursing home neglect and abuse is very common. We know about the cases that are reported, but there are studies that show that instances of abuse, or neglect, are significantly underreported. You are dealing with the population whom many have dementia, or may not be able to communicate with staff or family members, so the reporting of these incidents are not that reliable. The latest numbers that I have seen indicate that around twenty percent of the population in nursing homes are victims of abuse, or neglect at some point during their admission.
What are the Common Types of Abuses Alleged in These Cases?
The most common types of what I would refer to as abuse or neglect are instances where residents who have developed serious bedsores, otherwise known as pressure sores, or ulcers. Another neglect issue is falls, which are common in many nursing homes. These falls can result in fractures or injuries to the brain. There are also cases that involve malnutrition, and dehydration of residents which can sometimes lead to infections and even sepsis. In terms of abuse, it is what you would think. There are reports of incidents where staff members physically assaulted the residents or residents assault other residents. Both types of assault can lead to some serious injuries. There are also instances where residents are sexually assaulted, and that can be perpetrated by either a staff member, or sometimes another resident.
Are Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Cases Civil or Criminal in Nature?
Nursing home abuse can fall under both criminal and civil law. My office handles the civil side of these cases. What I mean by that is we pursue civil lawsuits asserting the violations of resident’s rights provided under the law. For each case, what we are seeking is monetary damages. Either district attorney’s offices or an attorney general’s offices pursue the criminal side of some of these cases. These can have criminal consequences (fines, jail time, probation) for either the nursing home, or the staff members that have committed the crime.
Does the Criminal Side of the Case Affect the Civil Suit and Vice Versa?
The criminal side can affect the civil side or vice versa; it would not affect the timing of the filing of either, but in terms of discovery and the investigations of the case, the criminal usually goes first. Many witnesses of the events would appear as witnesses in both the civil and the criminal matters. The criminal proceedings would proceed first, because the consequences are greater, some would potentially go to jail, and after the criminal side has ended, we then can move forward with the civil depositions, and take the perpetrator’s testimony under oath. Criminal defendants are often advised by their criminal defense attorneys not to give testimony under oath until the criminal proceeding is complete.
What are the Common Types of Injuries Sustained in These Cases?
One of the most common is Stage IV (Four) bedsores. They are usually found on pressure points of a person’s body. For example, the tailbone, and the heels are the most common areas these ulcers develop and worsen. These sores can get very deep and move to the bone, and become infected. If severely infected, then sometimes amputation is the last resort. Another type of injury we often see comes from falls in nursing homes that cause a fracture to the resident, most of the time it is their hip, or arm. This injury requires immediate medical attention for possibility of reductions, internal fixation surgeries, or pinning of the limb. Other types of injuries that are common are excessive back, neck and bone injuries.
We have handled cases involving head injuries after people have suffered trauma, or brain bleed, as a result from a fall. In the abuse type cases, we see many broken noses, or fractures to the orbital bone, or the medial wall. There are also reports of sexually abusive related cases, so it can run the gamut.
Who can Potentially be Held Liable in a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Case?
In most instances, the corporation that owns the nursing home facility can be held liable. There are limited instances where staff members are personally held liable as well. Several medical professionals might be involved in the abuse and neglect of a patient. Most often, the case is against the facility itself, and anyone who works there, would fall under that umbrella.