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An unexpected death of a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult time for any family. If you want answers, you may need to consult a lawyer quickly.

Move Quickly When Someone Unexpectedly Dies in a Nursing Home

A nursing home resident should not die suddenly and unexpectedly except by a diagnosable and not-preventable medical condition.  

If someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly in a nursing home and you can’t get straight, honest answers as to what happened–and why–you should have someone investigating that death as soon as possible.

How We Investigate Sudden Nursing Home Deaths

Here is an overview of how we investigate sudden deaths in nursing homes generally.  Every case is different, and may involve different approaches.

  1. Get the Medical Examiner / Coroner Involved Immediately
  2. Put the facility on notice of a potential claim and their legal requirement to preserve evidence like video footage
  3. Obtain all video footage
  4. Identify and interview witnesses
  5. Review all medical records
  6. Check for changes or alterations to records
  7. Consult experts

Get the Medical Examiner / Coroner Involved Immediately

Medical examiners should be investigating and ruling on the cause of death for suspicious sudden nursing home deaths.

The goal here is to figure out why the person died.  There could be an innocent medical explanation. The evidence of that may be inside the person or require examining their body.  That’s something, ideally, the medical examiner or coroner should do.

It can include seeking an autopsy.  While this may not be pleasant, there are certain medical causes of death that may only be detected (or ruled out) through an autopsy.

Any suspicious or sudden death, or death involving physical trauma, should already be reported to the medical examiner’s office.  Many times they aren’t in my experience.

So ask doctors and hospitals to report the death.  Follow up with the medical examiner’s office directly.  Once the person is cremated or buried, it may be too late for them to do anything.

Put the facility on notice of a potential claim and their legal requirement to preserve evidence like video footage

Purple note with the word "important" written on it in black handwriting with a red push pin at the top.

Don’t let important evidence be destroyed by letting time pass.

When a potential lawsuit defendant knows or should know there’s a potential legal claim being investigated, and they may have certain evidence in their possession (like video footage), they have a duty not to destroy that evidence.

If they do destroy it, we may be able to get sanctions for destruction of evidence (called “spoliation”), which may include the jury being instructed that the evidence would have helped our case.

Lots of types of evidence may be destroyed over time.  For example, there may be security cameras in hallways that record on a “loop,” so the footage is deleted every two weeks or 30 days.  

If we wait until 6 months have gone by to put the facility on notice, they can claim they did not know it was evidence anyone wanted.

Obtain all video footage

Video footage may be missing or destroyed if you wait too long to get it after an unexplained nursing home death.

If there’s any footage of the person, or the hallway to / from their room, we want it.  This will help prove (or disprove) what staff wrote in the medical record or may later testify about.

For example, if the family discovers someone dead in their room, the facility may claim “we just checked on her.”  If no one actually shows up on the video going to her room, we know that’s a lie.

Identify and interview witnesses

Getting to witnesses early to figure out what they know can be critical to ever knowing why someone died suddenly in a nursing home.

There are lots of people in nursing homes: other residents, their families, staff, outside medical providers, and others.

Any of these people may be able to shed light on what happened.  And in Ohio, nursing homes may be able to find some of these people, but hide what they said.  

We go find them and get their story for ourselves.

Time is crucial here, too.  Many residents may leave a nursing home, especially if they were just there for rehabilitation.  You can lose the story that can help you figure out why someone died in a nursin ghome if you let witnesses disappear.

Review all medical records

Medical records can provide important clues as to what happened, and what did not happen, leading up to a sudden nursing home death.

Medical records help us understand what may have happened.  They show prior medical conditions that could lead to sudden death.  For example, death by heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.

They also contain records of staff involved with the person leading up to their death.  Was there neglect? Abuse? Failure to recognize and respond to warning signs of an impending medical emergency?  

Check for changes or alterations to records

You cannot trust medical records to tell you the truth about what happened. You have to check for changes and alterations–or flat out lies–when someone dies suddenly in the nursing home.

As useful as medical records can be, we cannot assume they’re accurate or honest.

Staff at nursing homes can alter records after the fact as a cover-up of what happened.  This will show up in the record of medical record changes, called an “audit trail,” for electronic medical records. It can be harder to detect with hand-written medical records, but we’ve seen it.

People can also make self-serving or false records of care before a death.  For example, we’ve seen cases in which someone says they took vital signs, took a resident to the toilet, or gave medications, when we know it’s a lie.

We’ve even seen cases where care was supposedly given after the person has already left the facility, or died.

Consult experts

A forensic pathologist can be critical to finding out the cause of death when a nursing home resident suddenly dies without warning.

There are private doctors who can determine causes of death–called “forensic pathologists”–and we can and do retain such experts in cases like this.  Even when we have the medical examiner’s office on board.

Getting an Experienced Nursing Home Lawyer on Board Early

Time is of the essence in getting an investigation started when a loved one dies unexpectedly in a nursing home and you can’t get answers.

You can see from this list how important time is when a nursing home resident unexpectedly dies.  

Getting an experienced nursing home lawyer investigating quickly can be important to finding out what really happened.

But a word of warning: any “personal injury” lawyer can say “I do nursing home cases.”  Any lawyer can put a page on their website talking vaguely about nursing home cases. Do your homework and ask them tough questions:

  1. Is this all they do?  What other types of cases do they handle?  
  2. Have they ever taken a nursing home case to trial?
  3. How many of this type of nursing home cases have they handled?
  4. Can they answer your specific questions about nursing home laws and regulations?  Or do they give general answers and change the subject?
  5. Do they seem like subject-matter experts on nursing home law?

Remember, you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.  Changing lawyers can be time-consuming. And by the time you realize they aren’t the right lawyer for your family, it may already be too late.

So put the effort in up front to get it right if you can.

Do you have questions about a possible Sudden Nursing Home Death Investigations case? Contact us now using this confidential form. We'll help you get answers.

 Our No Fear Guarantee 

You’ve probably seen the lawyer ads: “No Fee Guarantee!” “No Fees if We Don’t Win!”   

Guess what? That’s true for just about any plaintiff’s lawyer.  It’s what a “contingency fee” means.  It doesn’t mean they’ll work hard.  Or get a good result for you.  It doesn’t mean much at all.

What we promise you is a NO FEAR guarantee.

What does that mean?  For 99% of our clients, a medical injury caused by negligence is new.  The medical malpractice lawsuit process is new.  Depositions, discovery, trial . . . everything is new.

New can be scary.  Especially when it involves having to testify under oath.

We’ve developed systems that let you address and move past the fear. Through education and information about the process. Role-playing and other preparation techniques. We empower you to be fearless.  Because this process is hard enough.

Contact us now.

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Find the Right Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyers for You

Nursing homes are regulated by federal and state regulations that most personal injury lawyers know nothing about.

If you're looking to take on a nursing home, you need a lawyer who knows those rules.

We exclusively handle medical claims, with a focus on nursing home abuse and neglect. We've tried these cases and obtained millions in damages at trial. 100% our cases involve the failure to provide appropriate hospital, medical, and nursing care to members of the community.

How We’re Paid

We advance the costs of the investigation and lawsuit.  We only get paid from money we collect in a settlement of verdict: there’s never a bill to you.

By taking on all the risk, you can be sure we’re only going to take on cases we believe in fully.

What Can We Do to Imrpove Nursing Home Conduct?

Nursing Homes are corporations: they speak the language of money.  Corporations, even non-profit corporations, are not real people; they do not have hearts, minds, or souls.

In our experience, holding a medical corporation responsible and accountable for carelessly injuring patients through a money verdict at trial, or a settlement motivated by their fear of trial, is the best way to make sure there is change.

A well-fought lawsuit can help prevent other people from being injured in the same way.

What Damages are Available?

Money damages available in a nursing home lawsuit can involve economic costs (medical bills, etc.), emotional harms like pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, and, if the injuries cause death, the mental anguish and loss of family members for wrongful death.

Many states allow for punitive damages when a medical corporation consciously disregards a patient’s rights and safety with a great probability of causing substantial harm. They are awarded in exceptional cases.

We’ve proven punitive damages at trial, including a $3,000,000 verdict for punitive damages against one of the largest medical companies in America.

Punitive damages are intended to punish, deter the defendant from doing the same thing in the future, and reform the nursing home industry.

What Else Can I do Besides Contacting You?

Once you contact us, you'll get a list of next steps, as well as emails explaining how the process works.  So contact us now, or call us at 216-777-8856.

I Have More Questions...

If you're like most of our clients, you have a lot more questions.

The best way to get answers is to contact us now, then ask us.  But don't worry!  Contacting us costs you nothing, and you are not locked into hiring us

There's no risk in contacting us.  And you'll receive more information on how these cases work, including free access to our library of important information on nursing home and wrongful death cases.