Are Nursing Homes Liable For Falls?
- November 19, 2023 |
- Personal Injury
Nursing homes have a legal responsibility to keep residents safe and prevent accidents. While many people think of abusive staff or a failure to provide proper medical treatment when they imagine nursing home neglect, falls are one of the most common dangers. And, sadly, the consequences of a fall could be deadly.
A nursing home has been entrusted to provide quality care, so residents should be able to rely on staff to prevent falls. If they do not meet their obligation and a resident experiences a preventable slip, trip, or fall, the nursing home could be held liable.
Risk Factors For Residents
The risk of falling is common among elderly residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Seniors in nursing homes should be assessed for their individual risk of falling. There are many considerations surrounding an individual’s mobility and health issues, of which the facility needs to be aware. Many of the risk factors cannot be eliminated, but they can be managed.
The nursing home should assess its residents’ risk of falling based on their:
Muscle weakness and gait problems
Often, elderly residents become less mobile over time, which can lead to loss of muscle and result in difficulties with balance. As people age, they also tend to lose their coordination. This can make activities such as standing, sitting, using the restroom, and navigating turns and obstacles more difficult.
Side-effects of medication
Certain medications can cause drowsiness or lightheadedness. If a resident is taking a medication with side-effects that impact balance and coordination, a nursing home should have a plan for monitoring.
Cognitive decline or impairment
Cognitive decline can result in unsafe behaviors. A facility should know if a resident is responding to internal cues and stimuli that only the resident perceives. Such behavior can lead to taking risks that cause falls.
Acute medical problems and chronic illness
Injuries, particularly to the feet, ankles, legs, back, knees, and hips, can impact a person’s gait. Their changed walking pattern can increase the risk of falls. Certain chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular diseases and vestibular disorders, can make a person lightheaded. Finally, seniors are also likely to suffer vision problems, which makes it harder to see and maneuver hazards.
Nursing homes are aware of the increased risk of falls for seniors and should have plans in place to prevent injuries. While there is a fall risk among seniors, falling can often be prevented. This is why Massachusetts law allows families to hold nursing homes responsible if their loved one suffers a fall injury in a facility.
Nursing Home Negligence
The legal theory used to hold a nursing home accountable is known as negligence. If the nursing home was irresponsible and failed to do something reasonable to prevent the fall, it could be found negligent and thus responsible for the resident’s harm.
In order for the nursing home to be liable for negligence, it must be shown that:
- The nursing home had a duty of care to the resident,
- The nursing home breached the duty, and
- As a result of the breach, the resident suffered harm.
Usually, it is easy enough to show the first and third requirements–that the nursing home owed a duty and that the resident suffered harm. However, fights frequently happen over whether they breached their duty of care. The nursing home may try to explain that falling down is simply a consequence of the resident’s age or condition. This is where a lawyer can help
Of course, falls are not always due to negligence. True accidents do happen—almost everyone trips from time to time. Nevertheless, if you suspect your loved one is the victim of nursing home negligence, it is essential to speak with an experienced attorney.
Call a nursing home negligence attorney in Massachusetts for a free consultation: (413) 737-3430 or (413) 781-CAVA (2282).
Nursing Home Responsibility
Most nursing homes have protocols to prevent falls, such as risk assessments, resident checks, bed alarms, and call buttons. However, falls can happen if: (1) the safety measures are not followed or (2) the nursing home did not correctly identify the risk of falling.
If the facility fails to take certain measures to prevent a fall from occurring, it could be liable. Some examples of nursing home errors could include:
- Failing to inspect the facility frequently or to identify a tripping hazard and remove it;
- Failing to clean a wet or slippery floor or remove clutter;
- Failing to install adequate handrails;
- Insufficient lighting;
- Not creating an appropriate plan of care for a resident;
- Using chairs and beds at an inappropriate height;
- Inadequate supervision of high-risk residents;
- Mistakes in administering medications causing dizziness or drowsiness;
- Inadequate provision of wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and mobility aids;
- Defective wheelchair brakes;
- Improper staff training or hiring unqualified employees;
- Failure to ensure residents have appropriate footwear that reduces the risk of a fall, given their risk assessment;
- Failing to maintain or repair beds, including unstable bed wheels;
- Inadequate fall risk assessments of residents or failure to reassess;
- Use of improper care, support, and transfer techniques; and/or
- Failure to provide residents with activities and fitness programs that improve strength, balance, and range of motion to help reduce fall risk.
These are just a few of the ways a nursing home could act irresponsibly.
Many falls are linked to understaffed facilities. If a nursing home is understaffed, it could have systemic failures involving many of the examples listed above. The staff could suffer from burnout because they are stretched thin and overworked.
For instance, the lack of personnel could mean a resident was not adequately screened as being at high risk of falling. The resident was not provided with needed mobility aids and was placed in bed without railings. The staff did not conduct regular checks. As a result, the resident fell when getting out bed because there was nothing to hold onto and no one was nearby to ask for help.
The Law Protects Nursing Home Residents
As mentioned, Massachusetts negligence laws can be used to hold a nursing home liable for a resident’s fall injuries. Additionally, every nursing facility that is certified to provide care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries must comply with both state regulations as well as federal requirements. Title 42, Chapter IV, Subchapter G, Part 483 Section 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires nursing facilities to:
- treat each resident with dignity and respect;
- promote or enhance residents’ quality of life;
- recognize each resident’s individuality; and
- promote the rights of residents.
You have made the difficult decision to rely on a nursing home to care for your loved one. The law recognizes that your loved one is vulnerable and cannot be responsible for their own well-being. A life-threatening fall is not an acceptable occurrence.
Damages For Elderly Deterioration After A Fall
If your loved one sustained an injury in a fall, they may be entitled to recover compensation. Compensation is not limited to past medical bills related to the fall accident. The compensation could include future medical care and non-economic damages.
Non-economic damages are a category of recovery that is hard to quantify or assign a number. However, they can sometimes be the most significant when an elderly resident in a nursing home falls. These damages are often related to the impact on the person’s quality of life, and can include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of life’s pleasures; and/or
These non-economic damages can really add up; falling sets off a dangerous chain reaction causing a decreased quality of life. Seniors are more susceptible to injuries after a fall; they have difficulty recovering from injuries; and they have additional risks for secondary complications during the recovery process.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reported that falling once doubles a person’s chances of falling again. This can be because people become afraid to fall again, which causes them to be less active and cut down on their everyday activities. Then, as they decrease activity, they become weaker and increase other risk factors for falling again.
A nursing home resident might also deteriorate after falling due to a combination of factors such as:
- Diminished healing process over time;
- Frailty and decreased strength;
- Osteoporosis, reduced bone and muscle mass;
- Surgical complications and lengthy hospitalizations;
- Vulnerability to infections; and/or
- Preexisting health conditions.
Falls therefore lead to serious and long-lasting complications that get compounded in seniors. Nursing home residents who suffer a fall can ultimately fail to recover and regain independence and mobility. The combination of factors makes falls incredibly challenging — they can even be fatal.
Cava Law Firm Seeks Justice
Our nursing home fall attorney is dedicated to meeting and even exceeding your expectations. With our experience in holding nursing homes and assisted living facilities accountable, winning is NO accident.
Call us at (413) 737-3430 or (413) 781-CAVA (2282) to learn how we can help you and your loved one after a nursing home fall.