Elder on Elder Abuse: Nursing Home Liability

Nursing Home LiabilityWhen our loved ones get older, and they get to the point that they are no longer able to care for themselves, we often have to make the emotional decision to place them in a nursing home or assisted living facility. That decision can be hard enough on its own, but when loved ones are abused, neglected, or mistreated while in a nursing home’s care, it makes the abuse even more emotionally wrenching than it would be otherwise.

How Injuries Happen

The term ‘nursing home’ is deceptive in some ways. Contrary to the reputation of housing generally infirm or ill residents, many nursing homes house mobile, lucid, and active seniors who still interact, socialize, and take part in their environment. Although the legal obligations for all nursing homes are generally the same, these kinds of nursing homes may have special duties owed to their residents and may need to take precautions to prevent different kinds of injuries.

Injury in a nursing home can happen in a number of ways. It can come from failed nursing care, to medical malpractice by the doctors who treat the residents. Nursing homes need to account for the individual needs of its residents; the elderly person who is mobile must not be able to roam, get lost, or fall, while the immobile residents must be moved and exercised so as to prevent atrophy, bed sores, and other ailments.

Resident-on-Resident Abuse

One kind of danger that is often overlooked in these environments, is “resident-on-resident” abuse. Just like with life outside of a nursing home, inside the home there may be residents with differing personalities, some who are more violent, or some who may have issues with other residents. Put another way, crime is not reserved for the world outside of a nursing home.

Tracking this kind of abuse can be difficult. Unlike with child abuse, there are no overseeing bodies that track statistics of elderly-on-elderly abuse (elderly abuse statistics are tracked, but not elderly-on-elderly abuse that occurs in nursing homes). Some elderly may have mental impairments that can make recounting of events difficult. Some with true stories of abuse may even be dismissed by nursing home staff, who may say that the elderly person is “crazy” or “telling stories.”

Study Tries to Identify Abuse Rates

Shockingly, a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine proposed that one of five residents in nursing homes is a victim of some sort of resident-on-resident abuse. The study was based on a study of nursing homes in New York only.

The study did include verbal abuse, which may have raised the overall incident level cited by the study. But physical and sexual aggression and abuse were also found in the study. 

The researchers conducted the study in realization that elderly-on-elderly abuse is often overlooked. The study notes that common signs of abuse include bruises, broken bones, or abrasions. Mental signs may include withdrawing from social events, depression, or reduced alertness.

Surely, these signs should be cause for concern for the family of any nursing home resident and can have many causes aside from resident abuse. But where there is a lack of any other plausible explanation for their appearance, family members should ask residents about their interactions with other residents, and take any complaints about abuse seriously.

Florida’s Laws

Florida has a comprehensive nursing home patient bill of rights, which spells out the rights afforded to every nursing home resident. The law is not limited to injuries caused by the nursing home itself, but can extend to injuries that are caused by other residents.

For example, the right to be free from mental and physical abuse includes the right to be free from such abuse caused by anybody—facility staff or resident.

The basis for liability is that all residents are under the care of the facility. Thus, the facility has an attendant duty to monitor and protect residents from all dangers, including those caused by other residents.

In many ways, we can compare this liability to that of a school attending to children. If a school knows that one child is a bully, or that the child is abusing other kids, there is an immediate obligation to separate the abusive child and protect the abused child. A school could not sit idly by, or remain purposely ignorant to the problem. In any custodial situation, be it children or the elderly, the facility must take whatever actions they can to avoid and stop abusive situations.

Sadly, many turn a blind eye. In many cases, the nursing home may take the approach that problems between residents are “personal problems” between the residents. Many homes have been thoroughly trained in how to avoid injuries that they could cause, but they are not as educated in detecting and preventing abuse caused by fellow residents.

Nursing homes may avoid addressing these problems for fear of invoking the wrath of the family of the abusing resident, who may deny that their elderly mother, father, or brother could be harming another resident. This is why the family of a resident should always be an advocate and pay attention to warning signs of abuse, and question the home thoroughly at the first sign of abuse.

If you suspect a loved one has been injured in a nursing home for any reason, do not wait to get help. Contact the elderly abuse attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi for a free consultation to discuss your case.