There are over 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, and these facilities have well over a million residents altogether. Nursing homes throughout the country are expected to be a safe environment for elderly and dependent adults, where we can be confident that our loved ones will be looked after and cared for with the highest standard of dignity and compassion.
Unfortunately, not all nursing homes live up to this standard. Neglect and outright abuse do happen in American nursing homes, and far more often than we would like to think. In fact, elders are group which is most vulnerable to abuse, after only children.
Elder abuse is not a frequently discussed topic in our society, and many Americans are unaware of its full scope. However, the price paid by our elders for this lack of societal awareness is all too real. As a result, our society has a duty to act to improve the situation by recognizing the signs of elder abuse and fighting back against it whenever possible.
IF YOU ARE AN ELDER: This page is addressed for the sake of conciseness primarily towards the caregivers of the elderly, who are typically their adult children or grandchildren, but that does not mean that you should not seek help on your own. If you are yourself an elderly nursing home resident who has suffered or is currently suffering abuse, then the information on this page will still apply to you, and we at TorkLaw will be happy to represent you.
Elder abuse can be hard to define because there are many different forms it can take. In fact, the National Center on Elder Abuse recognizes no fewer than seven types of elder abuse:
Elder abuse can occur in a variety of situations and involve a variety of perpetrators. If an elder lives with an adult child or other family member, then the family member responsible for the elder’s needs can perpetrate abuse. This, sadly, happens all too often.
If an elder resides in a nursing home, however, the abuser is most likely to be one or more members of the nursing home staff. Less often, an elder in a nursing home may be abused by a visitor to the nursing home, or even by another elderly resident.
There are all sorts of warning signs of elder abuse, and the particular warning signs which manifest will generally depend on the type of elder abuse which is occurring.
If an elder is being physically abused, then you may notice signs of physical injury, such as cuts, bruises, or fractures. If an elder is being sexually abused, then there may be STDs or injuries to the genitals, breasts, or buttocks. You may also notice blood stains on clothes, bedding, or other fabric.
If an elder is suffering emotional abuse, then you may notice changes in mood. They may be distant, withdrawn, afraid, or angry, lose or gain weight suddenly, or become afraid of one particular caregiver. They may also exhibit these signs if they are suffering physical or sexual abuse.
If an elder is being neglected, then you may notice signs of neglect such as bedsores, unclean facilities, or untreated infections or other medical problems. Neglected elders may also lose weight, and if they have a medical condition it may get worse.
Financial abuse will be harder to detect, and will typically involve careful oversight of the elder’s expenses to detect any sort of fraud or theft which may be occurring.
Warning signs may also be present in the facility itself. When you visit the nursing home, look around to see if the premises are clean and safe, and if the other elders look happy and healthy. If there are health or safety hazards, or if the other elders seem to be in distress, then this is a big red flag.
It is much easier to detect elder abuse if you take a proactive interest in your elderly loved one’s affairs. Visit them regularly, and keep an eye out for any warning signs when you see them.
It is also important to listen to your elders. Some elders will come right out and tell their loved ones that abuse is happening. Many elders, however, are afraid to do so because they think they will not be believed. For some, this is sadly a reasonable fear.
So if you think that an elderly loved one may be in danger, start a conversation with them. Stay gentle and understanding, and let them know that you want to help and are not angry with them, but ask probing questions and be persistent in finding the truth.
Of course, none of the above signs are proof positive of elder abuse. Sometimes elders will experience changes in mood for a variety of reasons unrelated to abuse. An elder may suffer a physical injury that was not the fault of the caregiver. And of course, elders in control of their mental faculties have the same right as any other adult to engage in consensual sexual activity.
However, if you see any of these warning signs, then this is a strong indication that you should investigate a little further and see if anything is wrong.
If you find out that an elderly loved one is being abused, then the very first thing you should do is take steps to ensure the elder’s safety. This involves immediately removing the elder from the dangerous situation, if necessary taking them out of the nursing home entirely.
If a criminal act such as rape, battery, or fraud has happened, then you should immediately call the police and report the crime. You have a responsibility to do this both for the sake of your elderly loved one and for that of any potential future victims of the same abuser.
Under the 1897 Nursing Home Reform Act, patients in a nursing home are afforded a bill of rights related to the protection of their privacy, autonomy, health, and dignity. Any nursing home that violates these rights stands to lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. If your or a loved one’s NHRA rights have been violated, then you should report it to your state ombudsman.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the authorities do not take cases of elder abuse as seriously as they should. In these cases, if you know for a fact that there is something wrong, you should keep pushing until proper attention is given to the problem.
Once you have taken steps to protect your elderly loved one and notify the proper authorities, you should file a lawsuit to recover damages that were caused by the elder abuse.
There are two broad categories of tort (i.e. wrong) that can be found in personal injury law: negligence and intention. Nursing home elder abuse lawsuits can involve either or both of these factors.
If a nursing home or one of its employees has committed an intentional act, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or fraud, then they can be held responsible for this act.
However, if the nursing home was negligent in maintaining a safe environment for the elders within the facility, then they can still be sued for negligence.
This includes the responsibility to properly vet its employees, and not hire staff or attendants who will hurt the residents.
Plaintiffs in a case against a nursing home can recover a variety of economic and noneconomic damages, including damages for fraud, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, depending on the ways in which the elder abuse cost you and your elderly loved one.
In some elder abuse cases, you may also be able to recover punitive damages. And if an elderly loved one was killed by the abuse, then you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek damages related to the death.
The precise nature of the damages will vary depending on your case, but with a good lawyer, you can recover a lot.
Some elder abuse cases involve only a single plaintiff. However, since nursing homes are large establishments, it is extremely common for there to be multiple victims of abuse. When this occurs, a nursing home lawsuit may be expanded into a class action lawsuit and involve many plaintiffs who were similarly injured.
No elder deserves to be abused. After working hard all their lives, our society’s senior citizens should be allowed to live out the remainder of their days in dignity. We at TorkLaw are outraged that our society fails on so many levels to live up to that expectation, and that far too many nursing homes are staffed with apathetic and irresponsible attendants who mistreat the elders they are responsible for.
If an elder has been abused in a nursing home, we would like to hear about it. If some nursing homes consider it to be in their financial interest to cut corners when it comes to the well-being of the elderly, then the only way to counterbalance that is by making them pay for any abuse through aggressive litigation on behalf of the elderly.
TorkLaw is dedicated to protecting the elderly against nursing home abuse. No matter who was responsible, our firm will fight on behalf of victims and their families to hold those responsible accountable. Our goal is not just proper compensation, but also to send a strong message to abusers of the elderly that their behavior will not be tolerated, and to get justice for you and your family.
Don’t guess about your legal rights or whether you have a case against a nursing home or assisted living facility. Contact us for a free consultation (888) 845-9696.