When a Nursing Home Injury or Death Occurs, is the Facility Responsible for the Doctor’s Wrongdoing?
Nursing Home Doctor Lawsuits Explained
Our nursing home abuse attorneys analyze the legal relationship between a nursing home corporation and a visiting nursing home doctor.
If you think your family member was wrongfully injured due to the mistake of a nursing home or its doctor, call our skilled attorneys right away at 1-888-375-9998. All case consultations are complimentary and we only get paid if we recover money damages for your family.
How Can a Doctor be Liable for Nursing Home Negligence?
There are countless nursing home doctor lawsuit scenarios that our lawyers have dealt with in the past, in which a doctor was at fault in a nursing home liability case.
However, here are some common cases where an alleged doctor mistake was central in the underlying lawsuit against the nursing home.
Patient fall cases. Falls in nursing homes and memory care facilities can be prevented through a number of techniques and interventions. However, some of these methods need a physician’s approval. In cases involving falls that result in deadly hip fractures or subdural brain bleeds, oftentimes the nurses will claim the doctor did not approve of a certain fall prevention method.
Facility acquired bedsore lawsuits. In cases where a resident develops skin breakdown in the form of pressure ulcers, the end result is often litigation. These wounds are almost always preventable if the nursing home did its job correctly. However, when nurses are pressed in bed sore depositions about prevention methods, sometimes they will blame the nursing home doctor for failing to order a special pressure reducing bed. Other pressure ulcer cases we’ve litigated have resulted in nursing home staff blaming the in-house physician for failing to request a wound team consultation or failing to timely prescribe barrier cream.
Infection/sepsis cases. When a nursing home resident develops an infection, nurses will call in the nursing home physician. If this nursing home doctor fails to timely respond to a worsening infection or UTI, the patient can deteriorate and develop sepsis. It is the nursing home doctor’s duty to treat the infection aggressively with antibiotics. If the infection does not relent, the doctor must quickly send the patient to the hospital for more intensive treatment. If the nursing home doctor delays treating the infection, the patient may die.
Choking deaths. Many nursing home residents lack the ability to safely swallow food. It is the nursing home doctor’s role to change that patient’s diet, depending on their swallowing test results. Pureed diets, mechanical soft diets and NPO diets are all options that can be prescribed by a nursing home physician. If the doctor fails to intervene and the resident develops aspiration pneumonia or chokes to death, this may be an instance of nursing home doctor malpractice.
Medication mistakes. If a nursing home doctor writes the wrong prescription for a nursing home resident, this is obviously malpractice.
Is the Nursing Home Doctor an Employee of the Nursing Home Company?
When you are signing the admission paperwork, nursing homes and assisted living facilities hold all kinds of care providers out as employees of the facility. However, when something goes wrong and a nursing home resident dies or is injured, you quickly learn that many facility staff are not employees.
This is true for the nursing home attending physician. Most of the time, the nursing home doctor is an independent contractor with no employee relationship tying him or her to the nursing home company. Sometimes, a facility medical director is a licensed doctor that is actually an employee of the nursing home or assisted living community.
The status of the doctor’s legal relationship to the nursing home matters if there was negligence leading to a resident injury or wrongful death.
What Kind of Physician Visits Nursing Homes?
Usually, an internist with a focus on elderly patients will visit nursing home residents. Physicians and ARNP’s specializing in nursing home care is a growing trend.
This doctor will typically have some sort of contract or agreement with the facility. He or she will usually see many patients in the nursing home during one visit.
Why Can’t My Family Member See Their Regular Doctor in the Nursing Home?
Many families are frustrated when they learn that their parent cannot see their usual primary care physician. Instead, the nursing home will use ‘their’ physician for wellness evaluations. This is because your usual primary care doctor does not have privileges to see patients inside the nursing home.
Additionally, nursing homes like to stack the deck and use ‘their’ own doctor in case a bad event occurs. In-house nursing home doctors are slower to blow the whistle on nursing home abuse and neglect than a true outside physician.
What is the Legal Significance of a Doctor being Employed by a Nursing Home?
The employment relationship between the nursing home and the doctor matters significantly if your loved one is hurt due to malpractice or nursing home negligence.
Broadly speaking, if the nursing home doctor is actually employed by the nursing home corporation, his or her mistakes are imputed to the nursing home. This way, it doesn’t matter whether the nursing home negligence was perpetrated by an aide, a nurse or the nursing home doctor. Regardless, the nursing home corporation is liable for the mistakes of its employees. This means the nursing home company will take steps to ensure good care to avoid being sued.
Conversely, many nursing home companies operate under loose independent contractor contracts with visiting doctors. This creates a problem if a negative outcome occurs that results in litigation.
A nursing home can attempt to argue that it is not liable for the acts of an independent contractor doctor. “He is not our employee” the nursing home corporation will claim. Then, if the nursing home nurses place the blame on the non-employee doctor, this allows the nursing home to escape from liability.
Can I Sue a Nursing Home Doctor for Malpractice?
Yes, you can certainly sue a physician individually who saw your loved one in a nursing home setting. However, it is preferable from a legal perspective to have the nursing home corporation share in the liability exposure. Having the nursing home on the hook for a doctor error is better for two reasons.
One, out of equity and fairness, the nursing home should be responsible for the wrongdoing of its physician. When your loved one is admitted to the facility, they are usually assigned this doctor by the nursing home. At the same time, they are precluded from getting visits from their usual primary care doctor. There is no choice here. Logic and fairness dictate that the nursing home should be held responsible if the doctor it mandated makes a mistake.
Secondly, there is the collectability of the doctor vs. the nursing home. Generally speaking, it is better to have a judgment against a large nursing home corporation than to have one against an individual doctor. Some doctors do not carry insurance. Others carry minimal policies. Most large nursing home chains pay their settlements and judgments.
Free Nursing Home Doctor Lawsuit Evaluation
If you believe your family member suffered preventable harm because of the negligence of a nursing home doctor, ARNP or physician’s assistant, our skilled and experience attorneys can help. All calls are complimentary and you do not pay us anything unless we win your case. Call us now for a free consultation: 1-888-375-9998.