Thanks to advancements in medical technology and improvements in quality of life, people are living longer. Although it affords us more time with loved ones, it also comes with its own set of problems. When seniors age, they sometimes require more specialized care that can only be provided in nursing homes or by qualified care providers. The need can be due to a loss of mental faculties or physical ailments that make living alone untenable.
A common option for elderly citizens in the United States is to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home. While this is often a way for physically or mentally limited seniors to receive the specialized care they need, it also puts them at risk of elder abuse.
Elder abuse is becoming an increasingly rampant criminal problem. Unless something is done, experts predict the problem will only become worse as the elderly population grows. Victims of elder abuse and their families are now looking for ways to combat the problem, including filing a personal injury lawsuit against negligent care facilities with help from a Maryland nursing home abuse lawyer.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much is my nursing home abuse lawsuit worth?
This depends on several factors including:
- The nature of the injuries
- The severity of the injuries
- What suffering and trauma did the resident experience?
- What are the financial resources of the nursing home?
- Was there death involved?
Your Maryland nursing home abuse attorney will have knowledge of similar cases and a better idea of how to value your claim. What your case is worth all depends on the facts of the case and the jury that you draw if your case goes to trial. An attorney cannot guarantee you any amount when taking your case.
What should I do if I suspect that my loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home?
The first thing that you need to do is report the abuse to both the nursing home and to the relevant regulatory authority. The nursing home will have to inform the state and must conduct an immediate investigation. The best thing that you can do is to document the situation as much as possible by taking pictures and thorough notes. Consult a nursing home abuse attorney who may be able to help you investigate your suspicions and will know the right questions for you to ask.
Who can file a lawsuit against a nursing home?
The resident may file a lawsuit on their own behalf. However, many nursing home residents suffer from dementia or other forms of cognitive diseases and cannot file their own lawsuits. When this is the case, the family may file a lawsuit on behalf of the resident. Even if the abused nursing home resident has died, their estate may still file the claim and the family can receive compensation.
If a resident of a nursing home has no contract with the home, can he or she still sue the home for improper care?
A nursing home resident does not need to have a contract with the home to file a lawsuit. Nearly all residents have these contracts, but once the nursing home assumes any responsibility for the resident or gives them any kind of care, they are assuming legal responsibility for their actions. Even if there is no contract and the facility is receiving payment for their services, the nursing home is liable for the resident’s safety. The court will often imply a contract even if there is nothing in writing.
What rights do nursing home residents have?
Nursing home residents have the right to an environment that is free from all types of abuse. They also have a right to receive the care and assistance with activities of daily life that nursing homes are intended to provide. There are numerous resident rights that are also set forth in federal and state regulations. In general, there is a right to receive reasonable care from the nursing home and its staff.
What will happen if a nursing home resident complains of neglect or abuse?
There are laws in every state that require the nursing home to report the allegation to the state within several hours. In addition, the nursing home must launch its own investigation of the abuse claim. This is regardless of whether or not the allegation seems believable to the nursing home administrator. All allegations made must be reported and investigated. The nursing home is expected to take action if the allegations turn out to be true, and state or federal regulators will likely fine the nursing home. Neglect is a different form of abuse, and families can file a complaint directly with the state when their loved one is being neglected.
What qualifies as neglect in the nursing home setting?
Neglect is any type of substandard care or breach of duty to provide care that injures a resident. Typically, you will know neglect when you see it. Here are some signs of neglect:
- The resident develops frequent infections such as urinary tract infections.
- The resident develops bedsores.
- The resident is malnourished or dehydrated.
Does a visitor rather than a resident have any rights against the nursing home if he/she is injured there?
Yes, the nursing home must know that their premises will have visitors and they will be subject to normal premises liability rules. They owe a duty of care to their visitors to act in a reasonable manner. Of course, the nursing home is not liable for every single injury under their roof but can be liable if they have not acted reasonably.
Why are neglect and abuse common in the nursing home setting?
Many nursing homes are understaffed. Nursing homes are a for-profit business, and for some homes, the profit aspect of the business comes before the care. Some nursing homes have staff members that are either overworked or underpaid. Alternatively, the staff may not be adequately trained to do their job. In addition, nursing homes may not be fulfilling their legal obligation to properly screen and perform background checks on their workers. All this adds up to a situation in which staff either does not have the capacity or the desire to give the residents the proper care and treatment to which they are legally entitled.
How can acts of abuse or neglect by a nursing home be addressed in legal proceedings?
There are three different ways that nursing homes or their employees can experience legal consequences for abuse and neglect.
- A civil lawsuit for monetary compensation brought by the family whose loved one experienced the abuse
- A regulatory action such as a fine levied by the federal or state government
- Criminal prosecution against the staff member who committed the abuse or the nursing home administration if they are criminally negligent
If the nursing home is punished by the government, it does not preclude the family from receiving compensation in a nursing home abuse lawsuit.
What constitutes exploitation in the nursing home setting?
This is largely overlapping with financial abuse of nursing home residents. When they are exploited, someone has either misappropriated their property through coercion, duress or deception. Nursing home residents are vulnerable to this type of abuse since staff members have a great degree of control over the resident’s daily life. Exploitation in a nursing home setting can also involve sexual abuse and inappropriate touching.
Can You Put a Camera in a Nursing Home Room?
Hidden camera footage is sometimes evidence in civil lawsuits or is given to state regulators who then take action. Before you do this, you need to check the laws of the state where the nursing home is located. Each state will have different laws. Some states will allow hidden cameras if the resident and any roommate consent to it. Given the growing number of nursing home abuse cases, more states are passing laws allowing hidden cameras in nursing homes.
What If My Nursing Home Was Found Non Compliant With Federal Requirements?
There are several disciplinary measures that nursing homes who violate federal rules can face.
- The inspection report will note that there has been a violation and the nursing home must take corrective action to remedy it.
- The federal government has the right to find a nursing home and often does so when a resident is harmed by abuse
- If the violation is egregious enough or if it is uncorrected, the federal government may temporarily bar the nursing home from receiving payment for new residents through the Medicare or Medicaid programs.
- Repeated violations may lead to suspension or removal from these programs.
Who are the Abusers of Older People?
Nursing home staff members are usually the perpetrators of abuse, but residents may also be subject to abuse by other residents, family members, or other visitors to the facility.
When a resident is abused by someone who is not a staff member, the facility is still responsible because the nursing home has a legal obligation to protect their residents from situations.
Are there Criminal or Civil Penalties for Abusers?
Usually, you will want to seek to hold the nursing home legally responsible for the abuse of your loved one. It is the nursing home that has the insurance and the assets necessary to pay any damage award. The staff member will not have the assets to pay the judgement. However, the individual staff member can face criminal charges for physical or sexual abuse of nursing home residents, and there have been numerous instances where they have been convicted or crimes for their illegal behavior.
How do I avoid negligent and abusive nursing homes?
It is vital to have a plan and strategy in place before you attempt to place your family member in a nursing home. This will involve both calls and visits to prospective facilities. You should thoroughly screen the new facility, including reviewing Medicare’s inspection reports of that nursing home. Moving your loved one will also require coordination with Medicare or Medicaid.
Elderly Abuse Definition
In the most basic terms, elder abuse is an intentional act that puts an older adult at risk of harm. An older adult is defined as someone 60 years or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Elder neglect and nursing home abuse is not something that started only a few years ago. In fact, documented cases of nursing home abuse and neglect go back as far as the 1970s, and more than likely existed long before then. Since many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported, most experts agree that the number of known cases is only a small percentage of what has occurred. Since nursing home abuse can take many forms, it can lead to such problems such as mental health issues, physical problems, and death.
The Different Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Although elder abuse is often narrowly defined as physical abuse, there are several forms of elder abuse. It is important for family and friends of nursing home residents to be aware of the different types of abuse that may occur. Since nursing home abuse can take many forms, it can lead to problems such as mental health issues, physical problems, and death. Different types of nursing home abuse include:
Caretakers or relatives of the elderly can inflict physical abuse on older adults. This is defined as the use of physical force that results in harm, distress, impairment, or death. Physical abuse can include everything from pinching or shoving to striking someone with a weapon or choking.
There are three main forms of nursing home physical abuse.
- Active Abuse – This is intentional abuse by a perpetrator who means to cause a resident pain and injuries. Active abuse includes punching, slapping, pinching, biting, burning, shaking, and shoving.
- Misuse of Restraints – Using restraints is only legal when used for medical reasons. However, restraints in nursing homes are sometimes used to discipline residents or simply because staff do not want to watch over them. Victims will suffer injuries such as cuts and burns when trying to get out of the restraints. Residents who have been restrained for too long may develop bedsores.
- Physical Negligence – This includes failing to provide food, water, clothing, and a sanitary living area.
Older adults can also be subjected to unwanted sexual interactions with family or caretakers. Sometimes an elderly patient suffering from a brain disease like Alzheimer’s cannot give consent for sexual activity. It also qualifies as sexual abuse of the elderly.
Elder sexual abuse can come from anyone who comes into contact with the resident. This includes staff, friends, strangers, visitors, other residents and family members. One of the more common forms of nursing home sexual abuse may come from other residents who have dementia, which sometimes leads to resident-to-resident sexual aggression.
Some signs of nursing home sexual abuse could be:
- Unexplained STDs or infection.
- Unexplained pelvic or hip injury.
- Bruising around the thigh, genital area or breasts.
- Unexplained vaginal or anal pain, irritation or bleeding.
- Blood, tears or stains on gowns or undergarments.
- Increased difficulty in walking or sitting upright.
The harm inflicted upon the elderly does not have to be physical. Both verbal and nonverbal behaviors can cause mental pain, distress, and fear. For example, a caretaker may call elderly patients insulting names in front of others or threaten bodily harm. Isolation or attempting to control an older person’s life by limiting money or social interactions also constitutes psychological abuse.
Staff will use various forms of emotional abuse on residents that could lead to harmful effects on an elderly person’s mental health. In order to be able to identify emotional abuse in nursing homes, families of residents need to be aware of the different types of emotional abuse which include:
- Humiliating and ridiculing a resident
- Blaming the resident for various problems
- Intentionally ignoring their needs
- Terrorizing the resident
- Yelling at or intimidating the resident
With age comes difficulty taking care of oneself. The task often falls to caretakers at a facility or family members. Unfortunately, sometimes the person responsible for a senior does not meet their needs in an appropriate manner. This can include the following:
- Failing to consistently meet hygiene standards
- Failing to provide the necessary nutrients and fluids that a resident requires
- Leaving residents unattended for long periods of time or in unsafe environments
- Medication errors
- Ignoring call lights
Oftentimes, nursing home negligence can be a result of understaffing, which is done purposefully to save the care facility money. Large chains and companies would rather risk the health and safety of residents than provide sufficient staff. Nursing home understaffing increases the workload of the current staff. When staff become stressed and agitated, they may take their frustrations out on the residents. Families should speak with a nursing home abuse lawyer to find out how they can file a suit for staff shortages at care facilities where their loved one is a resident.
When another person uses the resources of an older adult without their consent, it is considered financial abuse. According to the CDC, “this includes, but is not limited to, depriving an older person of rightful access to, information about, or use of, personal benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.” Stealing money or improperly using power of attorney qualifies as financial abuse.
One of the most common forms of financial abuse in nursing homes is the threat of action against a resident for an unpaid bill. Other types of nursing home financial abuse include:
- Stealing or misappropriating money from a resident
- Refusing to give residents access to their money when they need it
- Forging a resident’s signature
- Cashing a resident’s checks without proper authorization
- Coercing or tricking a resident into signing financial documents
- Failing to monitor or supervise how residents are spending their money when they are engaging in self-destructive behavior
Elderly Abuse Statistics
Determining the exact number of older adults suffering from abuse is impossible. The National Center on Elder Abuse warns that professionals and family members may miss signs of elder abuse. It is also likely that many nursing home residents don’t self-report cases of abuse over the fear of retaliation or a lack of mental capacity.
Several studies have tried to identify the prevalence of elder abuse.
- A 2011 study conducted in New York estimated that 260,000 older adults in the state had been victims of at least one form of abuse in the previous 12 months between 2008 and 2009. This came out to about 1 in 13 older adults.
- A comprehensive study from 2015 estimated that the prevalence of elder abuse is approximately 10%. This means 1 in 10 older adults have likely experienced some form of abuse.
Statistics also point to an alarming number of reports of abuse in nursing homes and care facilities. Millions of elders living in long-term care facilities may be at risk throughout the lifetime of their stay at such facilities. According to a published study by The Journal of the American Medical Association, residents who experience abuse have a 300% higher risk of death compared to residents who are not abused.
A report issued by the government revealed that nearly a third of all certified facilities “had been cited for some type of abuse violation that had the potential to cause harm or had actually caused harm to a nursing home resident” between 1999 and 2000.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse
If you suspect nursing home abuse against your loved one in Maryland, always make your concerns known to nursing home administration and staff members immediately. The staff, however, may or may not take appropriate action. If nothing is being done to stop and investigate abuse, then families should speak with a nursing home abuse lawyer who is experienced and knowledgeable about nursing home abuse cases, such as those at KBA Attorneys.
Those experiencing abuse do not have to suffer alone. Many services and hotlines allow elderly citizens or their families to report abuse. Anyone who suspects an older adult is being abused in any way can call their local Adult Protective Services hotline. You can locate specific resources for each state at the National Center on Elder Abuse.
If the situation is particularly serious or dangerous, the police or 911 should be called immediately.
Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Laws
Nursing homes have a legal responsibility to provide care for residents under various state and federal laws. Care facilities must follow specific regulations that vary from state to state. Much of the law involving nursing homes was introduced over the past 20 years because of the aging population and increased numbers that relate to nursing home abuse and neglect.
There are several laws that exist to protect nursing home residents, two of which include:
- The Nursing Home Reform Act – This act was passed to make sure that residents in nursing facilities receive a certain level of care. Several rights were established such as the right of privacy, active participation, free from physical restraints, neglect, mistreatment, dignity, communication, being informed, and the right to complain without fear of consequences.
- The Older Americans Act – Under this act elderly patients are entitled to services such as proper health and nutrition programs.
Each state has Adult Protective Service Programs that offer protection for elderly people. Complaints from a resident or the resident’s family will normally be investigated by the Adult Protective Services Association. If issues like the quality of food, housing conditions, hygiene, health care, medicine, and clothing have been violated, then appropriate enforcement agencies will be notified to protect the resident. Physical and mental abuse can constitute both a criminal and civil offense. Any type of senior abuse, whether in a nursing home or in another setting, is a serious offense and can result in both a nursing home abuse lawsuit and prosecution. A reliable nursing home abuse lawyer in Maryland can help families of victims throughout the entire litigation process and help them understand the laws associated with their case.
Nursing Home Abuse Warning Signs
Family members and friends must be aware of the different signs that indicate elder abuse is occurring. To make sure loved ones in a nursing home are treated with the care and respect they deserve, family members and friends should make it a point to visit as often as possible but not routinely. Abusive staff members may notice routine scheduled visits and will likely be able to hide their abusive behavior and actions until the visitors have left. To keep this from happening, visitors should always vary the days and times of their visits. By doing so, staff will never know when to expect them, which will keep any potential abusers on their best behavior.
Some signs of nursing home abuse and neglect include:
- Unexplained bruises, cuts, or broken bones
- Dramatic weight loss
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Poor hygiene
- Withdrawal and fearfulness
- Crying and complaining of poor treatment
- Showing fear of certain staff members
If these or other signs of elder abuse are present, contact a nursing home abuse lawyer immediately for assistance.
Liability of Nursing Homes
Care facilities are liable for the mistreatment and negligence that its employees display, so long as the employee is acting within the scope of their employment. This means that a nursing home abuse lawyer can file a lawsuit against the employer for the illegal actions of its employees that occurred on the job.
Nursing homes may be held liable for the following reasons:
- Failing to hire qualified staff members
- Purposefully understaffing to save money on payroll
- Failing to provide proper training for its employees
- The negligent actions of third parties such as security, maintenance workers, and visitors
File a Lawsuit with a Maryland Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
Nursing home facilities, especially those with a history of mistreatment, will not readily settle nursing home abuse lawsuits with families. They have lawyers of their own that will often fight these lawsuits all the way to trial. This makes it difficult for families to receive financial compensation unless they have a nursing home abuse lawyer on their side who will use every resource available to hold the responsible parties accountable.
The Maryland nursing home abuse lawyers at KBA Attorneys have years of combined experience in handling nursing home abuse lawsuits. Our legal team has helped families take the fight to the nursing home, aggressively confronting them in court for the harm that loved ones have suffered. While the wrongs of elder abuse can never be righted, KBA Attorneys want to at least help plaintiffs receive compensation for any injuries that a loved one sustained.
Contact our law firm today or fill out an online form for a free case evaluation.
- Kurtis Hiatt. “9 Warning Signs of Bad Care”, U.S. News, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/best-nursing-homes/articles/2013/02/26/9-warning-signs-of-bad-care. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- Jordan Rau. “Most nursing homes are not adequately staffed, new federal data says”, Kaiser Health News, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/most-nursing-homes-are-not-adequately-staffed-new-federal-data-says. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- RAINN. “Elder Abuse”, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, https://www.rainn.org/articles/elder-abuse. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken. “Sick, Dying and Raped in America’s Nursing Homes”, CNN, https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/02/health/nursing-home-sex-abuse-investigation/. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- David Goguen. “Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law: Basics”, Nolo, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/nursing-home-abuse-neglect-basics.html. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- CDC. “Elder Abuse: Definitions”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/elderabuse/definitions.html. Accessed July 11, 2019.
- NCOA. “Elder Abuse Facts”, National Council on Aging, https://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/. Accessed July 11, 2019.