Getting Answers Following a Suspicious Death in a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility
Questioning whether your loved one’s sudden passing away in a nursing home was a wrongful death? Is a death certificate always accurate on cause of death?
Spotting elder abuse or neglect is difficult when you must rely on the facility’s own records. Our nursing home abuse attorneys explain what to search for when determining whether your parent’s death was preventable, accidental or natural.
A Death Certificate’s Cause of Death Helps, But is Not Conclusive Evidence of the Determination of Death
A ‘long form’ death certificate lists the cause(s) of death. This is a certified medical record which can be used in subsequent litigation against the at-fault facility. However, sometimes, the certifying physician spends only a few seconds on completing a death certificate. For this reason, a death certificate is not always accurate on the causes of death of an elderly nursing home resident.
A Natural Death vs. An Accidental Death
If the death certificate lists ‘accident’ as the cause of death, you now know that your loved one’s passing was not due to natural causes. You also know that you likely have grounds to initiate a claim against the facility, for allowing your family member to suffer an accidental death under their watch.
In cases involving an accidental death that occurs inside a nursing home or assisted living facility, you should speak with our elder abuse law firm to investigate the matter further and determine whether the passing was preventable. If so, you can hold the negligent facility liable in a wrongful death claim.
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The Death Certificate Lists the Cause of Death as Natural, But I Still Have My Suspicions…
Simply because the death certificate lists the cause of death as ‘natural’ does not rule out a potential wrongful death. Unfortunately, the nursing home or ALF is often the last medical provider to see the decedent prior to their death. This means they can author self-serving records and protect themselves; i.e., make the deceased’s death seem natural rather than accidental.
We have handled hundred of cases against nursing homes and assisted living facilities where the death certificate said ‘natural causes’. This is in no way conclusive evidence of a non-negligent death. However, an unsupportive death certificate would mean that our law firm would need to dig deeper into other provider records.
Analyze Outside Third Party Medical Records Before and After the Incident to Determine Cause of Death
The motivation for a nursing home or assisted living facility to lie in their records is self-evident. They want to protect themselves from litigation. Because of this obvious potential for fabrication, we must look elsewhere for the truth on cause of death.
Oftentimes, outside records paint a very different picture of what really happened to a nursing home resident. For example, our attorneys will obtain medical records from:
- Ambulance or EMT transport responding to a 911 call;
- Hospital or ER records where the decedent was taken after the 911 call;
- Primary Care Physician records to determine the overall health of the resident prior to the unexpected death; and,
- Specialist records (i.e. Cardiologist if the death was allegedly due to a cardiac event).
By analyzing outside medical records and comparing them to the nursing home or ALF chart, we can look for discrepancies in the facility chart. Credibility is everything to a jury. If we find inconsistencies or fabrications in the facility chart, proving a wrongful death is much easier.
A Real Life Example of Getting the True Cause of Death
For example, in a recent assisted living facility abuse case we litigated, the cause of death was listed as ‘natural’ and the specific cause of death was listed as ‘sepsis’. This simply means a body wide infection. The ALF claimed the resident had intact skin upon discharge from the facility, just prior to his death. However, once we subpoenaed the ambulance records, we found that the EMT’s noted a large pressure ulcer on the victim’s heel. We were then able to obtain medical expert testimony that the sepsis (infection) was more likely than not stemming from the unreported bedsore on the victim’s heel. As a result, we sued the assisted living facility for wrongful death damages and ultimately prevailed.
Frequently Seen Accidental Causes of Death on Death Certificates
- Fall in a nursing home
- Blunt force trauma injuries
- Unexplained broken bones
- Subdural hematoma [brain bleed]
- Aspiration pneumonia
If your loved one has any of the above accidental causes of death listed on their death certificate, call our lawyers immediately to discuss the significance of these findings. Unfortunately, you likely have a case of negligence.
Frequently Seen Natural Causes of Death on Death Certificates
- Failure to thrive
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
- End stage renal disease
- Carcinoma [cancer]
- Respiratory failure / respiratory disease
- Cardiac arrest / Myocardial infarct / heart disease
The above causes of death are due to natural disease processes. However, if you believe there may be more to your parent’s passing away, a death certificate is in no way conclusive evidence. Investigate further if your instincts tell you otherwise.
Start the Investigation Today as to the Cause of Death of Your Loved One
If you suspect nursing home or ALF neglect, begin your investigation today by calling our experienced and compassionate lawyers. We are here to help get you and your family answers.
All calls are completely complimentary and we only get paid if we accept your case and subsequently make a financial recovery. Call us, toll-free, to see why we are a different kind of law firm.
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