Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Home Injuries

Q: If a resident of a nursing home has no contract with the home, can he or she still sue the home for improper care?

A: Yes. Nursing home residents (or their survivors) who are harmed due to improper care by a nursing home may recover damages under several different legal theories, even in the absence of a contract.

Q: What rights do residents of nursing homes have?

A: The Medicare program requires nursing homes receiving funding to be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse, and any physical or chemical restraint that is imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience, rather than to treat a medical condition. If a nursing home is not regulated by federal statute, its residents will still have rights under state laws, which vary from state to state.

Q: What will happen if a nursing home resident complains of neglect or abuse?

A: Today, all states have a system for reporting and investigating allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly. An investigation will usually include interviews with the resident, his or her family members and nursing home staff and management. If the allegations are well founded, adult protective services will provide services to the older person to try to remedy the problems and prevent their recurrence; however, there may be situations where the victim or the victim's family does not feel satisfied or justly compensated for the injury or indignity suffered at the hands of the nursing home. In such cases, the resident or resident's family member should speak to an attorney about bringing a civil action for damages against the nursing home. In addition, the circumstances may warrant a criminal prosecution.

Q: What qualifies as "neglect" in the nursing home setting?

A: Most states define neglect of a nursing home resident as the failure to provide him or her with services essential to health and safety, such as food, shelter, clothing, supervision and medical care. Whether such failures are intentional, or simply careless, often will determine whether a case against a nursing home is one for neglect or abuse.

Q: Does a visitor to a nursing home, rather than a resident, have any rights against the nursing home if he or she is injured there?

A: Yes. A person injured while visiting a nursing home can bring a civil claim against the nursing home under the law of "premises liability," which addresses injuries sustained on premises that are owned or maintained by others as a result of a dangerous or unsafe condition on that property. The injured party would probably proceed under a negligence theory, alleging that some negligence, either in the maintenance of the premises or in hiring employees, resulted in his or her injury.

Q: Why are neglect and abuse so common in the nursing home setting?

A: Several factors have been shown to contribute to the abuse or neglect of nursing home residents, including: poorly qualified and inadequately trained staff, staff with a history of violence, inadequate staffing, the isolation of residents and the reluctance of residents to report abuse out of embarrassment or fear.

Q: How can acts of abuse or neglect by a nursing home be remedied in legal proceedings?

A: An act of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a resident may give rise to one or all of the following types of proceeding: (1) an investigation and finding by an adult protective services agency; (2) a civil cause of action for damages; and/or (3) a criminal prosecution. These proceedings have different objectives: the objective of a protective services investigation is to provide immediate help and relief to the victim and prevent further harm; the civil action is to redress damages; and the criminal prosecution is to punish the harmful conduct.

Q: What constitutes "exploitation" in the nursing home setting?

A: Many states define exploitation as the wrongful use of another person's resources for profit or advantage. Some definitions refer simply to the "misuse" of the person's funds, property or person, while some states specify that, to qualify as exploitation, resources must have been obtained without the owner's consent, or obtained through undue influence, duress, deception or false pretenses.