When Can You Sue a Nursing Home for Negligence?

There are several situations where a nursing home could be sued for a resident or patient injury.

A nursing home, convalescent home, rest home, or long-term care facility can be held legally responsible—meaning that a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed—when an act of negligence, neglect, or abuse on the premises ends up causing harm to a patient or resident.

What Behavior Can Lead To A Civil Lawsuit?

There are countless accidents, intentional acts, and failures to act that may leave a nursing home or other care facility on the legal hook for injuries or preventable health problems, either based on the conduct of an employee or based on a policy or ongoing practice at the facility. Here are a few examples:

Failure to keep the premises reasonably safe and free of hazards (meaning dangers that the facility and its staff are aware of, and those they should be aware of through reasonable diligence). This includes everything from preventing slip and fall accidents to preventing one resident from physically assaulting another.

Negligent hiring of an employee who ends up neglecting, abusing, or otherwise intentionally harming a patient. The failure to properly train and supervise employees may also come into play here.

Negligent supervision of residents who then fall, or otherwise injure themselves. (Learn more about legal claims based on negligent supervision.)

Failure to maintain adequate health and safety policies, including keeping clean and sanitary conditions in resident rooms and in common areas.

Failure to provide adequate medical treatment that is in line with the medical standard of care under the circumstances. When the provision of sub-standard medical care causes harm to a resident, there may be a case for medical malpractice against the nursing home facility and/or against a medical professional who treated the resident.

Neglect of a resident could lead to a number of safety and/or medical issues, including bed sores.

Regulations On The Standard of Care

If a nursing home accepts Medicare, the nursing home must follow Federal Regulations that set forth the required standard of care. One of these regulations is 42 CFR sec. 483.25 (h) which says such facilities must ensure that:

  • the resident environment remains as free of accident hazards as possible, and
  • each resident receives adequate supervision and assistance devices to prevent accidents.

If the nursing home fails to comply with these regulations and a resident is injured, the nursing home might face liability in a civil lawsuit.

    An Example Of Regulatory Noncompliance

    What steps must a facility take in order to be in compliance with this regulation? An administrative law judge for the Department of Health and Human Services found a one facility violated this regulation after several residents suffered falls.

    One resident had Parkinson’s disease, long-term memory deficits, anxiety, periods of altered perception, and restlessness. The facility had implemented several interventions including:

    • installation of a low bed with mats
    • use of a body alarm
    • adjustment of medications
    • a lap buddy in the resident's wheelchair
    • therapy to assist in sitting in the wheelchair
    • use of a geri-chair
    • walking with assistance of a therapist
    • toileting the resident at regular intervals, and
    • placing the resident near the nurses' work station.

    Despite these interventions, the resident continued to fall. The court ruled that all the facility hadn't done enough to ensure the resident's safety, and should have provided continuous supervision any time the resident was out of bed. The court found that leaving the resident unwatched, for even a short period of time, was an invitation for the resident to fall.

    Other residents fell after figuring out how to disable wheelchair alarms, or because body alarms weren't working, or after refusing to use a walker. The court found that more supervision must be afforded these residents and that the facility's violation of 42 CFR sec. 483.25 (h) caused residents to sustain serious injuries.

    Proving Liability Can Be Complicated

    When a resident is injured at a care facility, it is not always obvious what exactly went wrong, and who might be legally responsible. The evidence available is often incomplete and may be self-serving for the defendant (the nursing home). In cases like these, your best first step might be discussing the situation with a personal injury lawyer.

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