Suing a Senior Living Community in a Negligence or Wrongful Death Lawsuit
When a Senior Living Community ignores resident safety, injuries and wrongful death occurs. Senior Living facilities and campuses owe a duty to all residents to assist, supervise, and monitor their wellbeing. Breaching that duty can result in a Senior Living Negligence lawsuit. The elder abuse attorneys at Senior Justice Law Firm narrowly focus on this kind of litigation, and we have represented victims of Senior Living negligence that resulted in falls, bedsores, elopement (escaping from the community), drowning, physical and sexual assault, and wrongful death.
Let our decades of experience in this specific niche practice area help you decide how to proceed after a tragedy occurs at a Senior Living Community. Call Senior Justice Law Firm now at (888) 375-9998 or live chat with our office. Share your story via a free case consultation, and we can advise you on your rights and what to do next. Call or chat with Senior Justice Law Firm now to begin your journey to justice. Let our narrowly focused Senior Living negligence attorneys help your family get answers, and justice, today.
Senior Living Campuses Offer a Variety of Care Levels, But All Owe a Duty of Safety to Residents
Are you an individual looking for options on where to live if you need a little bit of help with your day? Or maybe you’re a family member trying to look out for your parent, sibling or loved one in their older years. Different types of people spend a lot of time each year looking into senior living facilities and how they can help. But one of the biggest problems is that there are so many communities that seem almost the same—ILFs, nursing homes, rehab centers, ALFs, and more.
The most important take home message, regardless of the facility designation, is that every facility owes some legal duty to keep your loved one safe. This means if your family member was wrongfully injured at any level of a senior care facility, you should investigate a potential claim.
In order to make a smart choice for yourself or someone you love, you’ll need to learn more about what makes up a senior living community. Here’s everything you need to know about the types of senior living services that might be helpful, as well as what duties they have to their residents and what to do if their service doesn’t live up to an appropriate standard of care.
Skip Ahead to Learn More About a Specific Level of Care
Skip Ahead to Learn More About a Specific Injury
- Bed Sores
- Choking Deaths
- Wandering (Eloping) From the Facility
- Physical Assault & Fights
- Sexual Assault & Rape
- Medication Mistakes
What is a Senior Living Community?
Many people will reach a point in life where the help of their family and friends might not be enough to keep them safe and successful in their day-to-day life. When this happens, it’s common to look into senior living communities that can provide consistent care, as well as access to a medical team. However, these options can take many forms, from having someone move to a new location to hiring a professional to come into the home to help.
Above all, most options strive to keep seniors independent as long as possible. When they can no longer live independently, allowing them to make important choices about their own lives and stay in charge of the big decisions is paramount. If it’s time to have a discussion about the future with your loved one, you should come prepared with knowledge about the variety of senior living communities that they might be able to choose from. Here are the differences between many of the common options.
Varying Levels of Care in Senior Living
ILF (Independent Living Facility)
For those who just need a little bit of help or even convenience, independent living facilities or ILFs can be a great choice. These locations take a more hands-off approach compared to nursing homes. Instead, they simply make resources accessible. For example, they might do your laundry or offer dining services if you’d like. From there, residents can choose to go about their day however they see fit. Think of an ILF like a dorm room with close proximity to community activities, dining halls, and more.
Residents at an independent living facility are free to do what they like, but if they need help, it’s always around the corner. This preserves residents’ sense of self-sufficiency and confidence. ILFs are best for those without significant medical needs that require consistent supervision.
Click this link to learn more about an Independent Living Facility lawsuit and the legal duty an ILF owes residents.
ALF (Assisted Living Facility)
Those who are not quite self-sufficient enough to thrive in an ILF could benefit from an assisted living facility. These locations are more hands-on, providing medication management and other regular support from staff. For example, staff can help you to take a shower or prepare meals if needed. However, residents are still primarily left to be independent whenever possible.
ALFs are popular because they provide an augmented level of support but still include many activities that take residents outside the facility. They might plan day trips and an entire calendar full of events for those interested.
Some assisted living facilities provide only meals and monitor a resident’s whereabouts. Some ALF’s provide medication management, fall prevention, and 15 minute checks. It really depends on the Resident Agreement Contract, and what services you purchase from the facility. However, if your loved one was only recommended basic services, but required a higher level of care, this is an example of ALF negligence.
Click this link to learn more about an Assisted Living Facility lawsuit and the legal duty an ALF owes residents.
Memory Care Facility
Sometimes, certain medical conditions will make a person’s life challenging in unique ways that standard ALFs and ILFs are not equipped to help with. Alzheimer’s and dementia are two such diagnoses. For those with this type of challenge, a memory care facility may be more appropriate.
On a surface level, memory care facilities provide many of the same amenities that other types of care locations do. However, they also contribute a greater sense of structure and scheduling to reduce the stress that patients with dementia can feel. This includes, for example, checking in to make sure that someone has eaten rather than simply posting a communal meal schedule.
In addition, people with dementia and memory disorders tend to wander more often than their peers. For this reason, memory care facilities are equipped with alarmed doors and secure locations where residents can’t wander way. They might give residents bracelets to help keep track of them. They also focus on activities that help to stimulate the brain and improve cognitive function where possible.
Click this link to learn more about a Memory Care lawsuit and the legal duty a memory care unit owes residents.
Nursing homes are the standard option that people think of when they imagine someone receiving extra help as they get older. Nursing homes are hands-on, with staff regularly checking on residents and creating a schedule for them that is customized to their needs. Nursing homes are specifically built to be safer than places like apartments. For example, they make sure that trip hazards are minimized and that residents take their medicines at the same time every day.
It is critical to do careful research when selecting a nursing home. Although ALFs, ILFs, and other options are not exempt from such behavior, nursing homes are the most common locations for elder abuse. The best nursing homes operate as described above. The less highly rated ones may skip important steps to ensure your loved one’s safety or might be negligent in how often or well they take care of their residents. Be selective and involved throughout your family member’s stay.
Click this link to learn more about a nursing home neglect lawsuit and the legal duty a nursing home owes residents.
As the name suggests, rehabilitation centers are focused less around providing long-term care and more on short-term recovery from injuries or illness. Many times, rehab centers and nursing homes will work together. A rehab center may just be a short term unit inside a larger skilled nursing facility. The rehabilitation location might help your loved one recover from a broken hip, and then they might move into the nursing home for further care.
Rehabilitation centers offer services like physical therapy, speech therapy, and more but are still governed under the same laws as nursing homes. However, their goal is to transition residents either back into society or into a facility that specializes in their long-term needs.
A rehab unit owes the same legal duty of care to residents that a nursing home does. So if a family member is wrongfully injured inside a rehabilitation center, you have a nursing home negligence case.
What Legal Responsibilities Does a Senior Living Community Owe Its Residents?
Whether you yourself or someone you love is considering moving to a senior living community, you might be wondering whether the care they provide is high quality. The reality is that some locations are better than others. Some facilities take their tasks seriously, and others try to skirt as close to the minimum responsibilities as possible. The reason for this often comes down to ownership.
Non-profit senior living communities, on average, score better in terms of overall quality of care and administration. Conversely, privately owned facilities (that is, for-profit locations) have a greater incentive to cut costs as much as possible. Many senior living communities make very little in profit, so any option to reduce expenses can be tempting.
When a location cuts its expenses, the first things to go are often staff. However, this leaves the facility with too few people to properly take care of everyone who lives there. That’s how negligent and even abusive behavior arises.
But what duties do senior living communities have to their residents? What are they required to do, and what is optional? It’s important to understand the responsibilities that senior living facilities must adhere to so that you can identify when something is amiss.
The exact details of what duties are owed to residents will vary by state. While there are federal guidelines for how facilities must treat residents that are applied across the country, each state is also in charge of making its own additional rules.
The Federal Level
From a federal standpoint, senior living communities must provide some basic amenities and services in order to stay compliant. These include freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation as well as general safety guidelines. All residents have the right to a dignified existence and the opportunity to make decisions about themselves if able. These sorts of rules are the basis of all senior living communities across America.
The State Level
Further down, each state may elect to add onto what already exists in the federal regulations. The way that they do this usually falls into one (or both) of two categories: licensure and quality of care. Licensure regulations impact what sorts of facilities can qualify to offer senior living services. Do they have the right amenities and experience? Are they somehow hazardous?
States that focus on quality of care often implement additional rules about what constitutes abuse or neglect. They might have higher penalties than the federal level for health inspection violations, or they might conduct unannounced inspections more often.
No matter what types of laws and regulations your state has put into practice, there are a few basic duties that all senior living communities must abide by. They must:
- Employ enough staff to service residents
- Develop a comprehensive plan of care that is unique to each resident’s needs
- Offer and permit the use of assistive devices, like hearing aids and walkers
- Ensure that residents do not develop bedsores
- Provide appropriate supervision
- Safeguard residents’ dignity and quality of life
- Provide residents the opportunity to have a direct say in their care and activities
- Accurately keep records and make them available when requested
These are the bare minimum requirements. However, some facilities will fail to follow them. These locations can then be fined or even shut down if the problem repeats. In addition, families whose loved ones were injured or even killed have the right to take legal action—usually in the form of a lawsuit.
Common Senior Living Facility Injuries That Result in Lawsuits
Families can sue a nursing home for a violation of their basic duty to care, as described above. That means that if the senior living facility does not uphold the minimum standards, it is liable for its behavior. Most often, this takes the form of families suing because their loved one got hurt or even died due to the treatment they received.
Sometimes, actions taken by the staff cause an injury. Other times, staff failing to act at all can cause harm, which is called negligence. No matter what type of injury your family member sustained, you may have the legal right to pursue a case against the senior living community. In particular, pay special attention to:
Falls in Senior Living
Elder care facilities have a responsibility to make sure your loved one is safe. This includes creating a fall prevention plan tailored to them. If they continue to fall regularly, that facility must either 1) adjust the care plan or 2) tell the family that the resident is no longer appropriate for the facility and needs a higher level of care. Failure to do this is evidence of negligence.
While falls in the elderly occur regularly, every facility has a legal duty to attempt to stop falls. Falls can result in severe injury or even death caused by brain bleeds. Studies show that older folks who break a bone often do not ever fully recover, and they face a higher rate of death within one year than those who don’t fall.
Falls are not always preventable, but there must be a reasonable attempt to prevent facility falls. Failing to prevent falls is an example of senior living negligence.
Bed Sores in Senior Living
Sometimes called pressure ulcers, bedsore wounds are a “never” event. That means there is no medical diagnosis or condition that causes them. They are always caused by neglect or abuse. Bed sores happen when someone sits or lies in the same position for too long. Staff are supposed to help someone shift in bed every few hours.
Bedsores can start as just red marks, but they can quickly grow all the way down to the bone. Death from bedsores happens from infection of the open wound, often manifesting as sepsis, which is very painful.
Senior Living Choking Deaths
Elders who no longer have good motor control or experience nervous system inhibition can struggle to swallow properly or feed themselves. In patients with compromised swallowing abilities, the facility must assist and supervise with eating.
A negligent senior living community might still leave them to eat or drink on their own due to time constraints or laziness, resulting in deadly choking incidents. This could also cause aspiration pneumonia, when a person inhales food or drink particles directly into the lungs, causing infection. Like any other type of pneumonia, aspiration pneumonia can be fatal, especially in older people.
Eloping From a Senior Living Community
Wandering out of a supposed locked unit can be a fatal mistake. Allowing a confused resident to elope from a Senior Living community can result in that person being hit by a car or injuring themselves outside of the protective Senior Living facility.
Elopement from a Senior Care facility is a never event and should be promptly investigated. There is no excuse for ‘losing’ a resident and failing to monitor a vulnerable senior’s whereabouts.
Physical Assault and Fights in a Senior Living Community
Our attorneys regularly handle Senior Living lawsuits involving physical altercations in the facility. If a violent resident assaults of attacks your loved one, an appropriateness assessment must be made into that resident living in the facility. Did the facility vet the resident and ensure they do not have violent tendencies? Many fights are foreseeable.
If staff assault a resident, this almost always results in a viable liability claim against the Senior Living facility, assuming the resident sustained significant injury.
Rape in Senior Living
Tragically, vulnerable residents in Senior Living oftentimes are sexually assaulted by other residents, or staff. Either scenario is wholly unacceptable.
Rape is senior living happens to both male and female residents. If your loved one was sexually assaulted or raped in a senior living community, contact the police immediately to begin an investigation. After the police begin investigating, contact Senior Justice Law Firm to begin a civil investigation into what happened.
Many times, a Senior Living facility’s main responsibility is to manage the resident’s medication properly. This one simple task oftentimes gets bungled, and senior living residents get the wrong medicine, or receive the wrong dosages. Sometimes, residents go weeks without getting their medication in any form.
Regardless of the error, medication mistakes can be deadly. Administering the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or withholding meds can result in serious injury or wrongful death.
Who Decides the Level of Placement in a Senior Living Facility?
When your loved one enters a senior living facility, they will be thoroughly assessed to determine how best the staff can meet their needs. This includes determining their level of placement. But what is a level of placement, and who makes that final call?
A level of placement, which is also called a level of care, is a descriptor of what sorts of needs the staff should be prepared to address for your family member. There is no federal definition of what a level of care is or how they are separated. Instead, each state makes this determination on their own. However, there are a few common threads that almost all states agree on when it comes to assigning a level of placement.
One of the main aspects that staff will evaluate when your loved one enters a senior living facility is their cognitive capabilities. Do they struggle with aspects of memory or understanding? Are they able to make decisions for themselves in sound mind? Those with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia might, for example, put themselves in danger due to impaired judgment. They would benefit from greater and more targeted supervision.
Just like the measure of cognitive ability, a senior living community will evaluate your family member’s physical abilities. This is used to determine how much additional care or assistance they need with their day to day lives. Can they walk around on their own? Do they need help with toileting or bathing? Can they feed themselves?
Depending on the type of senior living facility that your family member is considering (e.g., ALFs versus nursing homes), they will also be evaluated based on IADLs. This stands for “instrumental activities of daily living” and refers to tasks that are very important for independence, but they’re not necessary every single day. Things like shopping, doing laundry, and paying bills fall under this umbrella.
If your loved one has specific or unique medical needs, they may be placed in a higher level of care. Things like needing intravenous (that is, in a vein) medicine, catheterization, or regular injections might require some staff help.
Some types of behavior can cause a placement change from a lower level of care to a higher one. This is especially common with dementia patients, who might have a tendency to wander if not supervised. Similarly, they may act out aggressively to their neighbors or even attempt inappropriate sexual conduct.
Making the Call
Based on all of the above factors—as well as anything else that the individual state deems important—your loved one will be placed into a specific level of care. Usually, senior living facilities will have specialized intake managers or staff who are in charge of gathering this information. They will be the ones who make the decision about which level of care and supervision is most appropriate for the elder. However, be sure to check with any facilities you are considering to get more specific details about how they conduct this process.
Do Senior Living Facilities Have Insurance?
The majority of senior living facilities are businesses. While there are certainly a decent number of non-profits operating in this sector, for-profit organizations make up the bulk. Like any other type of business, carrying some form of insurance is usually a smart move.
A big part of the insurance that senior living facilities carry is for damage to the property itself or the inability to use it. This might include, for example, protection against having to vacate in the event of a flood. However, senior living communities with a robust insurance policy will cover a lot of other things too, like:
- Employee theft
- Residents’ property (both theft and damage)
- Limited assault
- Abuse and molestation
- Cyber liability (for healthcare documentation and sensitive information)
You might be wondering—if a senior living facility has all this insurance coverage, what’s the point in suing them? In reality, a lawsuit can have a dramatic effect on the facility, and insurance can do very little to cover the expenses. Insurance exists for a niche subset of behaviors and damages mostly centered on how employees engage with the company. If your loved one fell victim to abuse or negligence, a lawsuit can strike directly at the profits of the facility rather than just at their insurance policy.
What Is a Senior Living Negligence Lawsuit?
A lawsuit is a legal means of seeking remedy or punishment for a situation. In the case of senior living negligence lawsuits, families can file a suit against a nursing home that has neglected or abused their loved one. The “injuries” that qualify for a lawsuit do not necessarily need to be physical, and the family can receive monetary compensation for what happened.
However, most people are leery about filing a lawsuit. After all, the court system can be complex, and families are likely already reeling from the news that their loved one was injured or even died due to the facility’s treatment. The thought of adding an additional commitment (in time, money, and effort) onto this situation makes many families skip the lawsuit process altogether.
However, it’s important to remember that a lawsuit can be life-saving for other residents of the senior living facility where the family member lived. Taking legal action can come with a positive impact, both for the affected family and others—even complete strangers.
The Positive Impact of a Senior Living Negligence Lawsuit Beyond Monetary Damages
It’s true that people who file a senior living negligence lawsuit can attempt to recover monetary damages (see below). However, they can also fundamentally change the way that a facility operates.
For example, imagine that a nursing home makes a profit of $200,000 in one year. However, at that senior living facility, a resident was discovered with bedsores that ultimately led to an infection and severe sepsis. The family chooses to file a lawsuit for negligent behavior, because the nursing home did not check on the resident and help them to shift in bed often enough.
When the suit goes to court, the judge assigns punitive damages in the amount of $250,000 to be paid by the nursing home. This is in addition to any fines that the facility has to pay to Medicare for health inspection violations related to the incident.
The amount that the nursing home has to pay exceeds its annual revenue, and the company is in the red. Going forward, it is more cost-effective for the facility to employ more staff than to keep facing fines and lawsuits surrounding this issue. Thus, the other residents in the nursing home are safer now because of what the lawsuit accomplished. They have more staff to take care of them, and the facility is on high alert for more infractions that could cost them money.
This benefit has nothing to do with whether or not the family of the affected resident was awarded any money. Senior living facilities will often change their practices to avoid further penalties once they are sued. Bringing a lawsuit can change—or even save—the lives of people who count on that senior community for their wellbeing.
What Kinds of Damages Are Available in a Senior Living Lawsuit?
If you are considering bringing a lawsuit against a senior living facility, you can seek damages for multiple types of injuries. Again, injuries do not need to be physical—though they can be. One lawsuit can contain more than one type of injury that you are seeking compensation for. Some of the most common damages that are paid out in senior living lawsuits for abuse and negligence include:
Medical expenses – If you needed to pay for medical procedures, you can seek compensation in a lawsuit. For example, the cost of physical therapy to heal from an injury caused by abuse or neglect is covered here.
Funeral expenses – If your loved one died as a result of their mistreatment, you can request the cost of the funeral and related expenses back as damages. This includes not only the materials like the casket but also any filing fees with the county and other similar tasks.
Pain and suffering – Sometimes, an event is harmful in a manner that is not easy to put a price tag or valuation on. However, you can still sue for the pain and suffering the elder experienced, even if you’re not sure how much it might be worth in damages. The court or a jury will be responsible for determining how much is owed.
Loss of consortium – This term refers to when one family member (usually a spouse) is deprived of a relationship due to abusive or negligent actions by another party. For example, a spouse who is suffering because they cannot go on evening walks with their partner is experiencing a tangible injury for which damages may be due. Loss of consortium can span missing comfort, sexual relations, the ability to care for each other, and more.
Of course, these are just a few of the many types of damages that a family can sue for. Each case is unique, which means that the damages will be too. In addition, families can pursue punitive damages separately from their own compensatory claims.
“Punitive” means “punishment,” and the purpose of punitive damages is solely to punish the senior living facility for its behavior. The family does not receive any of the money from punitive damages. Instead, think of it more like a fine. By combining compensation claims and punitive damages, a family can hit a nursing home hard in the pocketbook, prompting it to change its administration to better serve resident needs.
Can I Still Sue a Senior Living Community if My Loved One Died?
In short—yes, you can sue a senior living community if your loved one died. While many families do sue for non-fatal injuries, it’s possible to sue after a fatal incident as well. There is even a specific term for this kind of lawsuit: a wrongful death lawsuit.
The reason that many people are not aware that they can bring a wrongful death lawsuit against a senior living facility is because studies and surveys have indicated that these incidents are dramatically underreported. In fact, as many as 15% of all abusive and negligent deaths may never be publicly shared.
If your loved one passed away and you would like to file a lawsuit, you may be able to recover damages for funeral expenses and other costs.
Free Senior Living Neglect Attorney Consultation
If your loved one was injured or killed due to neglect or negligence inside a Senior Living Community, contact Senior Justice Law Firm today. Our law firm focuses on cases involving elder abuse and neglect and we work exclusively on contingency fee, so there is never any out of pocket costs to you.
Live chat with our office now, or call us at 888-375-9998 for your free Senior Living Community negligence lawsuit consultation.