Can I Sue for Bed Sore Injuries and Neglect?

Given the preventable nature of most bed sores/pressure ulcers, their occurrence often leads to a personal injury lawsuit.

When you or a loved one receive in-patient care at a hospital, nursing home, or assisted-living facility, you expect the best treatment possible. Sometimes, despite a medical professional or care provider's best efforts, a patient/resident's condition can take a turn for the worse. In other situations, neglect can cause or contribute to that decline. One of the most frequent forms of injury stemming from facility/provider neglect and negligence is bed sores (also known as "pressure ulcers").

What Are Bed Sores (Pressure Ulcers)?

Bed sores or pressure ulcers refer to damage to the skin or underlying tissue due to long-term pressure on the body. Bed sores commonly occur at parts of the body where a small amount of tissue sits between the skin and bone, including the hips, heels, shoulders, and tailbone area.

Bed sores can vary in severity and are commonly classified into one of four main stages:

  • Stage 1: a superficial sore that creates redness over the affected area.
  • Stage 2: the ulcer creates a break in the skin or forms a blister.
  • Stage 3: the sore consumes all of the skin and begins to affect the fat tissue below the skin.
  • Stage 4: complete degradation of the skin and surrounding tissues with exposure of underlying muscle or bone.

What Causes Bed Sores?

Bed sores occur most often at health care or nursing home facilities that host patients or residents for long periods of time. Factors that can increase the likelihood of a patient/resident developing bed sores include:

  • poor circulation
  • a care provider's failure to re-position the patient/resident
  • lack of good hygiene
  • poor handing of a patient/resident, leading to friction or shearing forces on the skin
  • moisture buildup, such as from bodily secretions
  • immobility of the patient/resident, and
  • poor nutrition.

Are Care Providers Liable for Bed Sores?

Health care providers and long term care facilities can face legal liability when a patient/resident develops bed sores. The nature of the legal action will depend on a number of factors, including who was caring for the patient/resident, and how the bed sores developed.

Legal recovery for bed sore injuries could come via a standard personal injury lawsuit, or through a medical malpractice claim. Both kinds of cases will rely on the legal concept of negligence, which means establishing some variation of the following four elements:

  1. a duty of care
  2. a breach of that duty
  3. a causal link between the breach of duty and injury to the plaintiff, and
  4. compensable losses ("damages").

Every employee at a healthcare/nursing facility and every private caregiver owes a duty of care to each patient or resident in their charge. If the employee or caregiver is a medical professional (such as a physician or licensed nurse), the professional must act in line with the applicable medical standard of care under the circumstances, or face potential liability for medical malpractice. The failure to act in accordance with the applicable duty or standard of care amounts to a "breach" of duty.

But just because bed sores develop, that doesn't mean someone was negligent. And proving causation—that any negligence led to or played a part in the occurrence of bed sores—can be a challenge, and may require the testimony of expert witnesses. (Learn more about medical negligence.)

The plaintiff's damages will depend on the nature and extent of the injuries, but can include compensation for future medical care necessary to treat the bed sores, and the patient/resident's pain and suffering.

When to Bring a Bed Sore Lawsuit

Any civil lawsuit for injuries caused by bed sores will be subject to a time limit set by a law known as a statute of limitations. These laws vary by state and by the particulars of the case. Imagine that a plaintiff develops bed sores in a nursing home and brings suit in a state that has a specific law concerning nursing home abuse and neglect. The relevant statute of limitations will likely come from that state law. In Florida, for example, Florida Statute 429.296 sets a two-year time limit on lawsuits over bed sore injuries that occur in an assisted care community, such as a nursing home.

If no state law specifically covers nursing home neglect or bed sore lawsuits, the state's deadline for personal injury lawsuits or medical malpractice lawsuits will likely apply. In most states, these time limits range from one to three years.

If the resident or patient is unable to bring suit themselves, they might need a loved one or family member to help with the litigation process. This will be especially important in order to comply with the statute of limitations deadline. Learn more about filing a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of someone else.

Federal Laws on Bed Sores and Nursing Home Neglect

To help motivate nursing homes to prevent and properly treat bed sores, Congress requires that these medical providers provide a minimum level of care to be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid funding.

There are a number of regulations that outline these level of care requirements, but one in particular, 42 C.F.R. §483.25(b)(1), mandates that residents must not have bed sores unless they are clinically unavoidable. And should a bed sore occur, the resident must receive all necessary and reasonable treatments under applicable professional standards of practice.

In addition, the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 established a number of rights for nursing home residents, such as the right to privacy, freedom from abuse, the right to communicate freely, and freedom from neglect.

If you're thinking about taking legal action over a patient or resident's development of bed sores, your best first step might be talking with a personal injury attorney.

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