The state of elder care in the United States is incredibly poor. Sending a loved one to a nursing home has become more and more difficult, not for lack of quantity, but for lack of quality care. The problem is especially big in Maryland, where malpractice, malnutrition, and plain bad care run rampant throughout the elder care system. If the amount of lawsuits filed are any indication, some of the lowest quality care facilities are in Prince George’s County (P.G.) and Baltimore City. You can argue that these are the best jurisdictions for plaintiffs so, of course, all of the cases get filed there. But you can also read the list of complaints and inspections that the government does. Trust me, P.G. County and Baltimore City are not great jurisdictions for nursing homes.
Types of Nursing Home Negligence
Nursing home negligence is a term that really includes four types of conduct: abuse, neglect, malpractice, and premises liability.
- Abuse – Of all the various types of nursing home negligence, abuse should make your blood boil the most. Nursing home abuse is characterized by purposeful act or acts that are grossly negligent. Nursing home abuse includes physical assault and battery, sexual acts, false imprisonment, and deprivation of the basic necessities like food, water, and medicine. This is not the biggest problem in nursing homes. Usually the problem is not evil, but pure neglect and indifference.
- Neglect – Nursing home neglect does not always manifest itself through intentional acts. Rather, neglect is typically found in scenarios where nursing home staff have a duty to ensure the safety and health of patients and fail to do so. There are different types of neglect: such as: emotional neglect, personal hygiene neglect, and medical neglect. This form of negligence can be committed by staff, orderlies, or really any employee who has a duty to ensure the health and proper care of a nursing home resident.
- Malpractice – Nursing homes usually employ in-house doctors to administer medical help to residents on the spot. Unfortunately, given the similar age and number of residents, doctors do not give the individualized care that is actually needed. Granted, this is not the case with every nursing home doctor; however, the mentality among a small group of nursing home doctors seems to be contrary to how a reasonable doctor should treat patients in the elder care field.
- Premises Liability – Premises liability usually conjures up images of slips and falls in the grocery store. But believe it or not, premises liability cases actually represent a fairly significant portion of nursing home negligence cases. Nursing homes are often older facilities, with equipment laying all over the place. Plus the care provider to patient ratio is typically just barely satisfactory, limiting supervision for patients that truly need it in order to be safe. The fact that the elderly are most susceptible to falls only exacerbates this problem.
Nursing Home Negligence Law: Federal Regulation
Considering how big of a problem this is, the federal government actually stepped in back in 1987 to set out minimum standards of nursing home care. The Nursing Home Reform Act requires that all nursing homes accepting Medicare and Medicaid comply with a series of guidelines to ensure the highest practical “physical, mental, and psycho-social care” to residents. Some of these standards include:
- Sufficient staffing
- Individualized evaluations of each patient’s capacities
- Procedures to reduce the chance of pressure sores
- Sufficient hydration and nutrition
- Pharmaceutical services
- Access to to complete and accurate clinical records
In the event that nursing homes violate federal guidelines, the government has the ability to use civil fines and penalties. If problems continue to be systematic, the federal government can actually suspend or revoke Medicare and Medicaid certifications. Should that occur, governmental insurance would not reimburse the facility for any services rendered to Medicare/Medicaid participants.
Nursing Home Negligence Law: Maryland
Of course, the federal government cannot do everything (or anything depending on who you ask). So states typically regulate nursing homes by way of licensing requirements. Maryland’s Office of Health Care Quality (which is a part of the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene) regulate nursing homes within the state. Like most governmental agencies, the office does not have the assets to keep close tabs on every single nursing home. Still, agency regulations set forth a Nursing Home Bill of Rights, laying out more protection for nursing home residents. Violations of the Nursing Home Bill of Rights often provide a basis for a lawsuit and can give rise to monetary penalties from the state should they occur.
Maryland “nursing home law” is the same as any other negligence case with respect to the proof you must give at trial. You must show that the nursing home’s negligence caused injury. That’s it.
Proving Nursing Home Negligence
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that nursing homes are not liable for every single thing that happens on the premises. Rather, they are liable for those things that a reasonable nursing home could have anticipated and avoided. In neglect, malpractice, and premises liability cases, this means proving negligence.
A negligence case must be able to demonstrate that the nursing home staff had a duty to the resident and breached that duty, resulting in injury. Abuse cases can involve either a negligence claim, but also claims for the intentional torts of assault and battery. Battery is comprised of an actual unwanted touching by someone else; where as, assault is the apprehension of that touching.
Nursing home cases are becoming more and more easy to win given the fact that juries are not strangers to the atmosphere of elder care. While this may be great for Plaintiffs’ lawyers, it really is a disappointing reflection of the state of elder care across the country. I’d rather make a living doing something that actually helps and fixes these nursing homes. The less nursing home negligence cases – the better. I think most Plaintiff’s lawyers would agree with me too.
Sample Nursing Home Verdicts and Settlements
Below are some sample verdicts and settlements from nursing home negligence cases. Trying a case before a jury is hardly an exact science, meaning these verdicts should serve as a guideline above all else. Every jury is different. Although, juries are often sympathetic to the victims of nursing home negligence, numerous factors come into play in every verdict.
You might be wondering why you do not see many Maryland verdicts and settlements. The reason is the bad cases are dismissed and the good cases settle. Maybe an over-generalization, but it really holds up.
Okay, so why don’t we publish the results of our cases? Nursing homes are politically smart. They calculate the value of the cases and the settle them. Sure, they jerk you around for months in litigation first. But that is mostly to discourage claims and to use the discovery process to figure out the value of the claims.
2015, Illinois: $550,000 Settlement: A 62 year-old man was a long term resident of a nursing home. At one point during his time at the nursing home, staff members begin to notice that he has an increased rate of eating and requires additional supervision while dining. His care plan specifically indicated that he needed additional supervision while he was eating to ensure safety. One day, he is left in the dining room unsupervised and begins to eat food that is not permitted by his diet. He begins to choke and aspirate, later passing away from the incident. His estate sues the nursing home, alleging a violation of Illinois’ nursing home regulations along with a general disregard for his well-being. In depositions, the Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses specifically claim that the failure to supervise during the resident led to his death. Prior to trial, the parties settled the case for $550,000.
2014, Maryland: $1,000,000 Verdict: For the past two years of her life, an elderly woman spent her days in an assisted living facility. One night, she is sitting in a recliner in a common area when she suddenly begins to become cold, clammy, and sweaty. A certified medical aide said that she would examine the woman, but apparently failed to do so, as there was no mention of it in the patient’s records. Throughout the night, the woman began to experience intense fever, diarrhea and bleeding. The aides examines the woman, but do not call her emergency contact or 911. At various points throughout the night, aides were supposed to evaluate her condition, but fail to do so. When her blood pressure drops severely and she stops breathing, staff finally calls 911. The woman passes away before paramedics can arrive. The woman’s estate brought a wrongful death claim, alleging that nursing home staff should have been more attentive, throughout the night. While the Defendants allege that they did not breach the appropriate standard of care, the jury awards the Plaintiff’s $1,000,000.
2014, Massachusetts: $14,447,906 Verdict: After living in a nursing home for around three months, an elderly woman falls out of her wheelchair. When she is taken to the hospital, doctors discover a number of medical conditions including bedsores, kidney failure, urinary tract infection, appendicitis, dehydration, and other conditions that the patient did not have before entering the facility. Given the extent of her injuries, doctors treat the conditions with antibiotics and painkillers, meaning the resident passes away a short time later. The woman’s family sues the nursing home on her behalf, alleging that they negligently treated her and ignored the multitude of conditions that she faced. The case went to trial and the jury determined that the nursing home staff violated the applicable standard of care to the resident. They awarded a $14,447,906 verdict to the family of the resident.
2014, North Carolina: $1,500,000 Verdict: An elderly woman suffering from dementia falls after she is admitted to a nursing home. Around a month after the fall, she passes away from complications that were spurred on by the fall. Her family sues the nursing home, alleging that they administered morphine to the woman in an attempt to keep her sedated. As a result of the over-sedation, the woman became less ambulatory then she was prior to entering the facility. They allege that bed sores began to develop after the fall since she was unable to walk as well. Plus, the plaintiffs claim that the morphine she was given was not proscribed to the woman. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs for $1,500,000.
2014 Virginia: $175,000 Settlement: After falling in her daughter’s house, an elderly woman goes to a nursing home facility for rehab. During her stay, her daughter finds her on the floor of her room after apparently falling from her bed. Although the elderly woman’s leg is swollen and warm to the touch, doctors do not immediately make a diagnosis. A few weeks later, doctors finally conduct an X-Ray and determine that her femur is broken. The woman sues the nursing home doctors for failing to diagnose the broken leg, but passes away prior to trial. Her estate is substituted as the Plaintiff and settles the case prior to trial for $175,000.
Our attorneys handle nursing home negligence cases and have years of experience doing so. If you or a loved one has fallen victim to negligent care, call our office at 800-553-8082 or visit our website for a free case consultation.