Wrongful death is a civil case between the estate of a deceased nursing home patients and the facility that was entrusted to care for them. Beneficiaries of nursing home patients may pursue these charges if they feel the patient died unnecessarily of neglect, abuse or other actions. Cases where nursing home patients are receiving such improper care that it results in death need to be brought to justice swiftly.
Causes of Wrongful Death
Many cases of wrongful death are due to the lack of proper training for nursing home staff or inefficient oversight when administering care to patients. This results in life-threatening infections, falls, illness and – in the most serious of cases- death. Reasons for opening a wrongful death case vary, but many of these situations involve abuse and neglect. Patients have died from the following causes in past wrongful death cases.
Dehydration and/or malnutrition – Nursing home staff are legally obligated to assist residents that eat with a feeding tube or who are unable to feed themselves. Yet, understaffed and under-trained caregivers can insert feeding tubes incorrectly, forget to feed special diets or rush through feeding. If the patient to staff ratio is too high, staff may not be monitoring water consumption resulting in dehydration.
Assault and/or abuse – Assault and abuse takes place in nursing homes at the hands of staff or other residents. If a patient is harmed by another patient under the care of a nursing home, the nursing home is liable since the residents weren’t being monitored.
Wandering and elopement – Residents who face mental illness or dementia may wander away from the facility if they get confused. Some of sound mind may try to run away. When this happens, they put themselves at risk of getting lost or falling.
Bedsores – These sores, also called pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers, develop when patients are putting too much pressure on a bony area for long periods of time. To avoid them, nursing home staff much reposition patients who are unable to do it themselves. If these open sores develop and progress to the most serious level, the patient is susceptible to infections and many succumb to sepsis, or septic shock, as a result.
Excessive Restraint – In some instances, caregivers may forcefully restrain an unruly resident. However, older adults have weaker bones and immune systems which place them at high risk for sprains, broken bones, suffocation and even death if they are excessively restrained.
Unsanitary Conditions – Many elderly people have compromised immune systems, especially if they are fighting illness. Bacteria, mold, poor heating and air, dirty water, and other unsanitary living conditions in a nursing home could potentially lead to death.
Medication Mistakes – Overdosing a resident and/or administering the wrong medication could lead to death.
Wrongful Death Cases
When the family of a deceased nursing home resident begins to take steps towards a wrongful death case against the resident’s nursing home, there are four factors that nursing home attorneys consider when reviewing the case.
- Was the death caused by the nursing home?
- Did the conduct of staff members, healthcare professionals or caregivers at the nursing home contributed to the death?
- Are there surviving family members of the victim (spouse, children, other dependents and beneficiaries)?
- Has the victim’s death resulted in damages, pain and/or suffering?
If the answer to the questions is ‘yes’, the attorney will proceed to press charges against the facility for one of a number of reasons. Most
Economic damages – In this instance, a cost has been absorbed by the facility. Costs such as medical expenses, loss of income and specialist fees. This includes court fees for the wrongful death lawsuit.
Non-economic damages – Emotional trauma, pain, suffering and the grief of losing a loved one wrongfully are all considered non-economic damages.
Punitive damages – Damages that punish the facility for their heinous actions against residents. This is used to set and industry precedent and deter other nursing homes from committing neglect or abuse.
Who’s Allowed to Sue?
Immediate Family – Immediate family members are allowed to sue in all states. Spouses, children of the deceased, and parents of an unmarried child qualify as immediate family in wrongful death lawsuits.
Life Partners, Putative Spouses and Financial Dependents – In some locations, those who were formerly financially dependent on the deceased are allowed to bring a wrongful death suit. “Putative spouses,” people who believed that they were legally married to the deceased, and life partners also may qualify.
Distant Family Members – Depending on the state, more distant family members like brothers, sisters and grandparents may be allowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Those Who Suffers Financially – Some states may allow all parties who have suffered financially as a result of a wrongful death to file a lawsuit.
The Expected Outcome
Almost all wrongful death cases are settled out of court where the terms of the settlement, including the size of the compensation payment, are kept private. This lack of public information makes it difficult to assess the average case value. It’s fair to assume that most out-of-court settlements lower than the publicized amounts that civil court juries have awarded. Some reports claim the average nursing home abuse case value to be around $750,000, which includes all damages and the law firm fees. The actual amount that the plaintiff receives would be far less, probably in the $150-200,000 range.
Some states have installed a cap on the number of damages that a jury or even the court can award. This is to prevent grossly overcompensated cases that arise from the “guilt factor” and set precedents that spiral out of control. Find out the terms of wrongful death in your state.
Major wrongful death settlements
Holder v. Beverly Enterprises Texas, Inc. – Ruth Waites, 83, was a resident at Borger Nursing Center, from where she was eventually hospitalized from dehydration. She was hospitalized a second-time with progressive bed sores. The bed sores became seriously infected and eventually led to her death. Waites’ estate sued the owners of Borger Nursing Center for $83 million for neglect. They claimed that the neglect was a result of understaffing. In addition to suing for negligence, Waites’ estate also sued for fraud, contending that the Borger Nursing Center willfully concealed the fact that staffing at their facility was inadequate.
Georgia Ann Bailey Smith v. Senior Living Properties – Dud Grover Bailey was a patient at a nursing home run by Senior Living Properties. His heir, Georgia Ann Bailey Smith, sued Senior Living Properties for wrongful death. Bailey died at the age of 90 as a result of a number of health complications including multiple strokes, anemia, skin breakdown and urinary tract infections. Smith alleged that the complications ultimately leading to Bailey’s death were a result of negligence at the nursing home facility run by Senior Living Properties. Smith claimed that the facility failed to follow proper care protocols, did not adequately staff the nursing home and did not contact Bailey’s doctor in a prompt manner when Bailey was suffering health problems. Senior Living Properties settled with Smith for $13.5 million.
File a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death is a horrendous experience for the loved ones involved. It happens in nursing homes of all sizes and types across the country. These nursing homes are legally required to ensure that they are adequately staffed by individuals who can provide the proper care to their residents. They have an obligation to follow ethical and practical care protocols for their patients.
Are you a victim of wrongful death? If your loved one may have been the victim of a wrongful death, contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer who focuses in this field of law and seeks justice today.