Suing Maryland Nursing Homes for Abuse and Neglect

Most of my blogs posts are directed at Maryland nursing home lawyers and other plaintiffs’ lawyers. This blog post is directed to Maryland victims of nursing home neglect and abuse.  They want to know if they can sue, who they can sue, what is going to happen, and what likely outcome of the case might be.

Can I sue a nursing home?

Yes.  Nursing homes and other elder care facilities can be sued just like any hospital, doctor or other healhcare provider. In fact, lawsuits against nursing homes are very common and frequently settled out of court. I’ll talk to you more about this below.  But for now, if you fear is that you are afraid of going to trial in a nursing home case, that is a statistically very unlikely outcome.  I know of two nursing home trials that have gone to trial in last 7 or 8 years and scores of nursing home cases are filed every year.  More on that later.  But for now, if you stress level in suing a nursing home is going to trial, I think that stress is misplaced.

Nursing-Home-Consent-Form-300x218Nursing homes are not strictly liable for every accident or injury to one of their patients. Even with the best possible care and attention elderly patients will sometimes get sick or injured.  So Maryland nursing home law is not going to allow you to bring a claim unless the nursing home did something, or failed to do something, that caused harm.

Let me tell you, mistakes are rampant in nursing homes.  Pick up an inspection report at even a good Maryland nursing home.  These people screw up and cut corners left and right. Few nursing home residents in Maryland receive the best possible care and attention.  The question is just whether nursing screwups are going to cause physical harm or death. Patients in nursing homes are frequently neglected and sometimes intentionally abused.

Even in the absence of blatant abuse or neglect nursing homes can also be liable injuries or death resulting from medical malpractice or from poorly maintained facilities. When nursing homes get sued the claims typically asserted fall into one of the following categories: abuse, neglect, medical malpractice, and property liability.  Below is a summary of each of these types of claims.

Abuse

Nursing home abuse refers to some type of intentional, wrongful act or actions committed against a patient resulting in physical or mental injury.  Nursing home residents are usually defenseless which makes them vulnerable to various types of intentional abuse.  Abusive conduct is usually committed by nursing home staff members but in some cases the abuser can be another patient.  There are 3 basic types of abuse:

  • Physical Abuse: acts of physical abuse come in a wide range of severity. Punching or assaulting a patient is clear-cut and indefensible abuse. Using excessive force on a difficult patient can also cross the line and be considered abusive. For example, if staff members don’t have the patience for a difficult patient and tie them to the bed or sedate them every day this can absolutely be considered abusive treatment.
  • Mental Abuse: mental abuse of nursing home patients can also come in a variety of forms and levels. Verbally berating, bullying or threating a patient are common examples. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to sue a nursing home for mental abuse alone.  You probably won’t be able to sue unless the mental abuse is accompanied by some level of physical abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse: sexual abuse of nursing home patients does happen. It can sometimes be hard to discover. But if you can prove it you will have a very strong claim against the nursing home.

You don’t necessarily need to “catch” or identify the abusive staff member in order to sue the nursing home for abuse.  Catching the bad guy in the act is obviously great and makes for a slam dunk abuse claim against the nursing home.  But the truth is you don’t really need to name a bad guy or even a suspect in order to hold the nursing home liable for abuse.  For example, if mom or dad has a new black eye or bruise every time you go to visit them and the nursing home cannot offer a valid explanation you have enough evidence to sue the nursing home for abuse.  You don’t need to figure out exactly who has been doing the punching.

Neglect

Nursing homes have an obligation to actively monitor and care for their elderly patients. A nursing home can be liable if it fails to take proper care of a patient and they are injured as a result.  The question in claims of neglect is exactly what level of care was required.  This may vary depending on the type of nursing home involved.  Malnutrition is a common type of nursing home neglect claim.  All nursing homes have an obligation to ensure that their patients are eating and drinking enough to stay healthy.  With some patients this may require more than simply putting a tray of food in front of the patient.   Nursing homes also have a minimum obligation to prevent physical injury to their patients so falls and bedsores are also common grounds for neglect claims.

Medical Malpractice

Nursing homes provide patients with both living assistance and medical care and treatment.  If a patient is injured during the rendering of medical care the nursing home can be liable for medical malpractice.  Malpractice claims are somewhat different from claims based on ordinary negligence or neglect.  In a malpractice claim, the question is whether the medical treatment provided by the nursing home or its employees was consistent with the accepted medical standard of care.

In a different sense, almost all nursing home negligence lawsuits in Maryland are medical malpractice cases.  Because a nursing home is deemed to be a health care provider, Maryland law requires that any lawsuit brought against a nursing home for negligence be brought under the Health Claims Act.  This requires the nursing home lawyer to jump through additional hoops to bring a claim.  But it has little practical effect on the case for an experienced nursing home attorney.

Premises Liability

Nursing homes can also be sued for premises liability.  Premises or property liability refers to the liability of a property owner to maintain its facility in a safe condition. Slip and falls cases are the most familiar type of property liability claims.  Nursing homes can be accountable for more than just a slippery floor.  Elderly patients in nursing homes have special needs so the scope of premises liability for a nursing home is somewhat broader.  Inadequate maintenance or poor design at a nursing home facility can be more likely to cause injury compared to a similar condition at another location.  For example, suppose the carpet in the hallway at a nursing home has a pulled seam.  In an office building, this might not create much of a hazard.  Most people in an office building are not going to trip and fall over a pulled seam and if they do they probably won’t be seriously injured. For elderly patients at a nursing home, however, the same pulled seam could be very dangerous.   Nursing home residents using walkers or canes are far more likely to trip and seriously injure themselves.

What Are Nursing Home Lawsuits Worth?

Compared to other types of civil lawsuits, such as medical malpractice, lawsuits against nursing homes have a relatively high success rate.  Many claims against nursing homes are quickly settled before a lawsuit is even filed.  For those that do go to trial plaintiffs win over 60% of the time and damages exceed $1 million in a ¼ of the victories.  The median amount of damages awarded by juries in nursing home cases is around $350,000.  A summary of recent verdicts and settlements against Maryland nursing homes is available here.

Will My Nursing Home Case Settle or Go to Trial?

I can’t find anyone online who is talking about this issue like I am.  Maryland nursing home cases rarely go to trial.  If you bring a claim, you will likely have to answer written and oral questions. But there only a small risk, statistically, of a Maryland nursing home suit going to trial.

Contact Us About Suing a Nursing Home

If you or someone you know has been the victim of nursing home abuse, neglect or malpractice contact our experienced nursing home neglect lawyers at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.  We can tell you whether you have a possible lawsuit against a nursing home and how much it might be worth.

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