When a nursing home’s carelessness leads to injury, the injured resident has a personal injury case. When that injury causes the resident’s death—whether immediately, or over time—the resident’s family has a case, too, called a “wrongful death” case.
What is a “Wrongful Death” Case?
While the resident’s case is for pain and suffering, in Ohio, the wrongful death damages for the resident’s family involves their loss of relationship and mental anguish—including grief—from losing their loved one. The wrongful death case is based on a statute, Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2125.
Are Wrongful Death Cases Different?
Nursing home wrongful death cases are different.
Beyond proving the negligence, and that negligence caused an injury, you have to prove the injury caused the person’s death. That is not easy when there may be days or weeks between an injury and death. Especially with the average nursing home resident having medical issues already. Unless the medical examiner is informed about the injury or negligence—not terribly likely—they might determine the cause of death was related to those underlying conditions.
The nursing home may fight the issue of whether their carelessness caused the resident’s death, even if they admit negligence and injury. By admitting negligence and injury, the nursing home’s lawyers hope to have jury cut off their liability with the death. This is called “causation”: whether the jury finds the nursing home caused the death.
Wrongful death cases also require a lawyer to be knowledgeable about grief, loss, and persuasively communicating loss to total strangers (the jury). That is no easy task, especially for a lawyer who is primarily handling injury cases. Combined with the unique nature of nursing home litigation, nursing home wrongful death cases are a difficult and complicated type of case requiring experience.
How Do We Know if a Death Was Caused by Negligence?
Nursing home residents almost always require the care of professionals for daily living needs, medical needs, or cognitive needs, which is why they are in nursing homes in the first place. When a nursing home is careless, and injures a resident, your lawyer will have to prove the injuries were caused by the negligence.
Things get a lot more complicated when the resident dies in the ensuing days, weeks, or months, because their death may or may not be related. Proving that connection requires medical expert to review and determine the death was caused—at least in part—by the negligence-caused injuries.
One of the key factors is the resident’s underlying health issues. This can cut both ways.
If the nursing home injures a resident and the resident dies because the resident was sick, weak, or otherwise unable to recover from the trauma or injury, that is the nursing home’s fault. They do not get a pass because the person they injury was not stronger or healthier than someone else.
On the other hand, he nursing home lawyer or insurance company will use the resident’s underlying medical issues as an excuse, by saying it was the medical issues that caused the death, not the injuries caused by the negligence. That’s exactly what the nursing home defense lawyer did in a case we tried to a jury in 2016. Even though the nursing home rolled the resident out of bed and broke her leg, and despite what a traumatic injury that can be, and despite the death 11 weeks later being attributed to the broken leg by the county medical examiner, the nursing home claimed the broken leg had nothing to do with her death.
The jury disagreed, and awarded $4.4 million for her death, which included $3 million to punish the nursing home for disregarding the resident’s rights and safety with a great probability of causing substantial harm. While every case is different, and that verdict does not mean any other case will have the same result, it shows how a jury can reject such self-serving arguments by a nursing home.
If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.
What Types of Nursing Home Neglect Can Cause Death?
A resident’s death can result from any injury that kills in the short term (such as a head trauma leading to a deadly brain bleed) to a longer-term decline from which they never recover. It is the latter case that is more challenging to the lawyers to prove.
Some examples of abuse and neglect that has led to resident deaths include:
Dehydration / Malnutrition
Nursing home residents require balanced diets that may need to be changed based on their health needs. If a resident needs help eating, needs to be prompted to continue eating due to memory or cognitive issues, needs to be fed with a feeding tube or PEG tube, needs monitoring to prevent choking, or needs special textures (such as softened food, thickened liquids, etc.), they rely on nursing home caregivers every day to stay alive. Those caregivers are usually some of the lowest-paid, too: often nursing assistants or aides. Understaffing, inadequate training, being rushed, or not supervising employees can lead to deadly malnutrition issues or dehydration, either of which can result in severe weight loss, compromised immune system, skin breakdowns, organ failure, shock, and death.
Learn more about Nursing Home Malnutrition and Dehydration cases. If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.
Nursing Home Falls
For older nursing home residents, falls are a matter of life and death.
Being older, or on certain medications, can put people at significant risk of brain bleeds or subdural hematomas, which can be deadly if not timely recognized and treated.
It can also lead to broken bones, which put significant strain on a person’s energy resources, making them more vulnerable to infections (like pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and infections of the skin), and skin breakdowns (bedsores, pressure ulcers).
It may also make the resident less mobile, increasing the same risks, as well as becoming weak and deconditioned.
Nursing homes are required to evaluate resident’s risk for falls, and provide care and services to address those risks. Learn more about nursing home fall lawsuits. If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856.
Wandering Off / Elopement
When someone has cognitive or emotional issues that can lead them to wander away from a safe area of the nursing home, or away from the nursing home altogether, they are at risk of severe injuries or death unless the nursing home takes adequate precautions to keep them safe. Wandering and elopement is the cause of many deaths in nursing homes. When residents wander out of safety, they put themselves at risk for dangerous falls, exposure to climate (freezing or overheating), drowning, or even death.
Nursing homes are required to evaluate resident’s risk for elopement, and provide care and services to address those risks. Learn more about nursing home elopement lawsuits.
Open sores called bedsores, pressure ulcers, or decubitus ulcers, are wounds that form usually when residents are left in the same position for far too long, or extreme pressure for a shorter period. Nursing homes are responsible for providing adequate care and services to prevent new, avoidable pressure wounds, and prevent them from becoming infected.
If allowed to progress, or become infected, pressure sores can cause decline and death. Many eventually succumb to sepsis or septic shock as a result. Learn more about nursing home bedsore lawsuits.
Assault and Abuse
Physical abuse or assault can occur at the hands of overstressed or criminal staff, or other residents who are not being cared for properly to prevent them from injuring other residents. Nursing homes can be liable when abuse results in death, either immediately in the short term, or if it causes a decline that leads to death over a longer period.
Learn more about nursing home assault lawsuits.
In some instances, caregivers may forcefully restrain an unruly resident, or in order to make care easier, restrain people who are prone to falling or wandering away. Federal regulations prohibit restraints unless medically necessary—and never simply to make care easier for the nursing home.
Because older adults have weaker bones and immune systems, they are at higher risk of broken bones, strains and sprains, skin wounds or tears, suffocation, and death if they are restrained too much or for too long.
Unsanitary living conditions are dangerous for older people, who may have reduced or compromised immune systems, are more prone to infection, and may not be able to recover as well-or at all—from infections. Unsanitary conditions can include poor infection controls (staff not adequately washing hands between changing wound dressings, for example), bacteria, mold, poor heating and air, dirty water, and other unsanitary living conditions.
Providing too much, too little, or the wrong type of medication to a nursing home resident—once, or multiple times—could seriously injure or kill them.
Getting Help in a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case
If you would like to discuss your loved one’s situation, injuries, or death at a nursing home, call us at 216-777-8856, or fill out the contact form. You can also read more, including how nursing home abuse lawsuits work.