Elderly nursing home residents deserve to live out their final years in comfort and safety. Unfortunately, far too many suffer from neglect, emotional abuse, or even physical harm at the hands of poorly trained, understaffed, or uncaring nursing home facilities.
If your loved one has experienced nursing home abuse or neglect, you may be considering legal action. Lawsuits not only seek financial compensation, but also aim to compel negligent nursing homes to improve their standards of care.
This guide will walk you through what to expect when moving forward with a nursing home abuse lawsuit. With an understanding of the legal process and working with an experienced attorney, justice and better protection for our aging population can be achieved.
One primary reason families file lawsuits against nursing homes is to obtain compensation for the resident’s injuries, pain and suffering, and decline in health and quality of life. Funds can cover current and ongoing medical bills, replacement services, and other costs stemming from abuse or neglect.
Additionally, financial penalties imposed by successful lawsuits motivate positive changes in nursing home chains by impacting their bottom line. Facilities may be prompted to boost staffing, training, and accountability measures when their poor practices start costing them money.
Prevent Future Harm
Abuse thrives in secrecy. By bringing cases into a public courtroom, lawsuits can expose gross misconduct, negligence, and exploitation that would otherwise go unknown and unaddressed. The discovery and evidence gathering processes dig up critical details that families, state surveyors, and even facility administrators may struggle to uncover on their own.
With problems illuminated, verdicts and settlements that favor the plaintiffs send an important message to the nursing home industry that abuse and neglect will not be tolerated. Fear of financial and reputational damages compels facilities to enforce stronger resident protections. Although no amount of money can make up for a loved one’s suffering, you may find solace knowing the lawsuit aims to ensure fewer people endure the same treatment in the future.
Obtain Admission of Wrongdoing
For many families, it’s not only about financial redress, but moral justice as well. Lawsuits requesting a jury trial can force offending nursing homes to defend their actions publicly. Facilities may be reluctant to own up to wrongdoing, even in the face of convincing evidence. Taking them to court and winning a verdict makes them legally culpable.
A public admission that the nursing home failed in its duty of care and played a role in a resident’s decline or death can provide families with a sense of closure. It also reiterates accountability to all nursing home management, staff, residents, and families.
Prompt Facility Changes
Successful verdicts and settlements frequently require offending nursing homes to implement policy overhauls per the plaintiff’s requests. Such reforms may include increased staff-to-resident ratios, more thorough employee screening and training programs, closer state auditing, and new protocols for medication management, infection control, diagnostics, therapy access, nutrition, fall prevention, and addressing complaints of abuse.
You may also gain the ability to periodically monitor for adherence to these changes for several years following the litigation. While no facility administration wants to willingly subject themselves to added scrutiny, mandated reforms backed by legal accountability have the power to meaningfully transform nursing home conditions and quality of care.
Hire an Attorney
The intricacies of medical malpractice and personal injury law, plus nursing homes’ typical advantage in legal firepower, make attempting a lawsuit without an attorney unwise. An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer understands the challenge of building viable cases and maximizing pressure on facilities to prompt settlements.
Many personal injury attorneys refuse nursing home cases because they tend to be lengthy and labor intensive for modest rewards compared to other litigation. Search for those specializing specifically in nursing home abuse, as they have knowledge of elder care standards, negotiating leverage, and resources to help families overcome the emotional difficulties of confronting powerful nursing home enterprises.
After an initial consultation and deciding to move forward with your case, your attorney will launch a rigorous investigation to assemble all pertinent facts and documentation. The evidence collection process helps determine if legal action meets standards for nursing home negligence or recklessness. Key components your lawyer will gather include:
- Your loved one’s medical history before, during, and after their nursing home stay
- Facility records, including charts, logs, and incident reports
- Staff notes and schedules
- State nursing home inspection results
- Medical expert reviews of relevant records
- Facility policies and procedures
- First-hand accounts of abuse/neglect through interviews with you, your family, fellow residents or staff, etc.
This comprehensive evidence portfolio arms your legal team with the details needed to prove your loved one suffered nursing home abuse and exploitation instead of merely the effects of age and illness.
File the Lawsuit
Once satisfied with the merits of your case, your attorney will prepare a formal legal complaint identifying the plaintiff (your abused or neglected loved one), the defendant (the nursing home facility and possibly specific staff members), statements framing the alleged nursing home wrongdoing, and requests for financial damages.
The complaint initiates the lawsuit when submitted along with a summons for the nursing home to provide an initial response. The court then oversees managing procedural steps, filings and rulings over subsequent months until trial or settlement.
State statutes of limitations dictate strict deadline ranges to file nursing home abuse lawsuits, often within two years of an incident or no more than four years from the discovery of injury and negligence. Your lawyer will ensure proper timing so your case proceeds without delay.
The Discovery Process
During the discovery phase after filing, your attorney seeks additional evidence from the defense through requests for documents, witness depositions, facility inspections, and interrogatories (written Q&A). This helps fully understand the defendant’s side of the story, prepare for trial, and potentially reveal new details to support your case.
Nursing homes typically resist releasing materials that may be unflattering, meaning many subpoenas become necessary. But transparency is legally required, so your lawyer can battle to compel compliance when the facility inevitably drags its feet. Have confidence your attorney has experience navigating discovery hurdles to ensure no stone goes unturned.
The vast majority of nursing home abuse lawsuits end in settlement rather than completing a full trial. Your attorney generally prefers settlement as well, as it typically provides faster closure and prevents you from having to appear in court. Settlements also reduce legal expenses compared to a lengthy trial.
That said, worthwhile settlements only happen when nursing homes make serious offers out of concern that a public trial could turn out far worse for them. Your attorney needs to implement an aggressive litigation strategy to reach a satisfactory settlement value in light of your loved one’s damages and the facility’s glaring liability.
When negotiations begin, you play an important role by deciding the lowest acceptable settlement your family is willing to consider based on the pain caused by the nursing home. Be ready to walk away if offers do not reach the minimum threshold you feel the case deserves.
Going to Trial
Should settlement talks reach an impasse, your case proceeds to trial before a judge or jury. Your attorney presents gathered evidence and argues how it proves the nursing home’s reckless disregard for your loved one’s health and safety. Nursing home representatives attempt to discredit those assertions and provide alternative explanations for the resident’s suffering.
Expert witnesses are often called to analyze records and circumstances surrounding the alleged abuse. Their testimony carries significant weight in determining whether appropriate standards of nursing home care were violated.
You and other plaintiff witnesses will describe first-hand experiences indicating neglect, physical harm, emotional abuse, or exploitation. The defense may try to poke holes or misconstrue your statements. Remain collected and truthful, sticking to the facts. Rely on your lawyer’s guidance to navigate tense exchanges.
Ultimately, either the judge or jury examines both sides’ evidence and arguments. If they determine the nursing home bears responsibility for the resident’s suffering, the court decides on a monetary penalty. Awards cover current and ongoing medical costs, pain and suffering, and punitive damages if negligence was especially egregious.
If the court finds in your favor, the nursing home must pay the determined settlement or award amount. This constitutes their admission of wrongdoing and accountability. Monetary damages also motivate necessary improvements to their policies and procedures per the lawsuit demands.
While money can support your loved one’s increased care needs stemming from poor treatment, no dollar amount repairs all the damage. However, your efforts courageously exposed injustice and forced reforms to shield other residents. Future families may be spared similar agony thanks to your leadership.
In rare instances, even a plaintiff victory fails to transform nursing home conditions. The legal team may then need to petition the court to mandate facility oversight, stiff fines for noncompliance, or other aggressive measures if problems persist.