Medical Neglect

When elderly people are hurt while in the care of a nursing home or medical facility, they can bring many different types of personal injury claims. One of the types of claims that may be appropriate is a claim for medical neglect. This is different from elder abuse because abuse involves intentional actions to cause harm to an older person, whereas neglect arises from negligence, inaction, or indifference.

Nursing homes are held to a high standard of care and must adhere to certain industry standards promulgated by both federal and state laws with regard to their care of seniors. Under the federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987, all nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds are required to maintain safe facilities. They also are required to be free of elder abuse. States and municipalities impose some other regulations. If there are no actual damages to a nursing home resident, but there is failure to comply with regulations, an Attorney General may bring an action against the nursing home.

What Needs to Be Proved in a Medical Neglect Claim Against a Nursing Home?

Nursing homes that fail to abide by regulations and neglect their residents may be held liable for medical neglect. In general, a plaintiff must prove the nursing home’s duty, the nursing home’s breach of duty in the care and treatment of a resident, injury or death to the resident, and a causal link from the breach of duty to the harm. A central issue of most medical neglect claims is whether the person who neglected the resident acted in the same way a reasonable caregiver would have acted under the same circumstances.

Some common situations in which medical neglect claims have been appropriate involve overmedicating or under-medicating, failure to recognize a patient’s dehydration or malnutrition and take steps to correct it, and failure to send a patient to a hospital when necessary. Common signs of neglect include bedsores and unexplained falls.

Sometimes, a nursing home abuse lawsuit alleging medical neglect will also include a medical malpractice claim against a doctor or nurse. Medical malpractice may be alleged directly against the doctor. Sometimes there are too few doctors to provide proper care, or the doctor in charge of a particular resident does not provide medical treatment at the appropriate standard.

On other occasions, medical neglect at a nursing home creates a problem, such as a bedsore or dehydration, which requires the patient to be transferred to a medical facility where the patient receives professionally negligent treatment. Where a nursing home’s neglect and a health care provider’s neglect combine to cause an injury, the jury will allocate liability to each party and apportion damages according to the state’s rules related to comparative fault and joint and several liability.

Damages that can be recovered in a medical neglect claim against a nursing home include past and future medical bills and costs associated with treating an injury that arose or was exacerbated by the nursing home’s negligence, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and wrongful death damages if the patient dies. In some cases of gross neglect or other egregious misconduct towards a nursing home resident, punitive damages may be awarded.