Frequently Asked Questions About
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect


 
  1. How prevalent is nursing home abuse and neglect?
  2. What are the causes of nursing home abuse and neglect?
  3. What are the various types of neglect and abuse?
  4. How can one recognize the signs that abuse or neglect may be occurring?
  5. What can I do if I suspect nursing home abuse or neglect?
  6. What is the first step in pursuing a nursing home abuse or neglect claim?
  7. What if I am told by an attorney that I do not have a good case?
  8. What about the costs involved in pursuing a case?
  9. How long will a nursing home abuse case take?
  10. How long does one have to bring a nursing home abuse or neglect claim?

 

 

1.  How prevalent is nursing home abuse and neglect?
Answer:

More than 1.5 million elderly and disabled Americans reside in more than 16,000 nursing homes across this country.  Despite the fact that by law, these nursing homes must take steps to attain or maintain the "highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident," too many of these residents are the victims of neglect or abuse by these facilities and/or their employees.  Consider a 1998 study by the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) which concluded that more than half of the suspicious deaths studied in California nursing homes were likely due to neglect, including malnutrition and dehydration.  The study further found that nearly 1 in 3 California nursing homes had been cited by state inspectors for "serious or potentially life-threatening care problems."  The GAO report noted that these same problems can likely be found across the nation.  

Despite increased regulatory oversight of the nation's nursing homes, it is safe to assume that many violations posing threats to the health and safety of the residents go unreported.  Nursing home inspectors simply cannot be everywhere at all times.  Therefore, family members with loved ones who are residents of nursing homes must never take the resident's care for granted and assume adequate protections are in place.  The nursing home resident's only protection may be the family member's diligence in reporting any perceived problems.  Return to FAQ menu.



2.  What are the causes of nursing home abuse and neglect?
Answer:
Perhaps due to an attempt to squeeze more profit from the bottom line, too many nursing homes simply do not hire sufficient numbers of qualified staff to appropriately care for their residents.   Poorly qualified, untrained, and/or overworked staff are not capable of addressing the demanding daily needs of nursing home residents.  Exposing neglect and abuse in a nursing home facility is much more difficult than in some other health care contexts because the nursing home abuse/neglect victims are often incapable of communicating the nature and occurrence of their abuse or neglect because of their physical and/or mental infirmities.  Return to FAQ menu.

 
3.  What are the various types of neglect and abuse?
Answer:
Nursing home abuse and/or neglect can involve not only the physical well-being of the resident, but also the mental, and/or psychological well-being of the resident as well. 

Nursing home abuse and/or neglect can take many forms, all of which are too numerous to list.  The following, however, represent common examples of  nursing home abuse and/or neglect:

  • failure to provide proper nutrition and hydration
  • failure to assist in personal hygiene when needed
  • over-medication or under-medication
  • failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent falls
  • failure to answer call lights in a timely fashion
  • failure to turn residents in their beds (leading to pressure sores)
  • failure to take residents to the toilet (leaving them in soiled garments or beds)
  • slapping or other physical abuse of the resident
  • use of unwarranted chemical or physical restraints
  • emotional or verbal abuse of the resident
  • retaliation for making a complaint or filing a grievance
  • failure to take adequate precautions to prevent injury to the resident
  • failure to provide for appropriate medical care
  • sexual assault or rape of the resident
  • theft of the resident's money or other personal property

The foregoing list is only intended to set forth common examples of abuse and neglect.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  Return to FAQ menu.

 
4.  How can one recognize the signs that abuse or neglect may be occurring?
Answer:
Any one or more of the following could evidence nursing home abuse or neglect and warrants investigation:
  • bedsores (also known as "pressure sores", "pressure ulcers", and "decubitus ulcers")
  • skin rash
  • urine and/or feces odor
  • lack of attention to resident's personal hygiene
  • falls resulting from lack of adequate precautions or assistance
  • skin tears
  • bruises, contusions, or lesions
  • bone fractures
  • significant weight loss
  • dehydration
  • disorientation
  • depression or isolation
  • unexplained mood changes
  • fear or anxiety
  • unexplained refusal or inability to communicate
  • presence of unjustified chemical or physical restraints

    Return to FAQ menu.
 
5.  What can I do if I suspect nursing home abuse or neglect?
Answer:
Given that the health and safety of the resident is at stake if nursing home abuse or neglect is suspected, the matter should be investigated immediately.  If the matter cannot be resolved to your satisfaction by bringing it to the attention of the nursing home administrator and/or the director of nurses at the nursing home, you may seek the assistance of the government along with private attorneys.

GOVERNMENT HELP:

You may contact your state attorney general's office to report abuse.  The attorney general's office may alert you to other state agencies that may likewise have jurisdiction to address complaints of abuse and/or neglect.   

PRIVATE ATTORNEY ASSISTANCE:

Private attorneys can bring civil actions against nursing homes and their agents who are responsible for neglect and/or abuse in order to recover damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.  Under certain circumstances, one may also seek punitive damages in a civil lawsuit in effort to deter such grossly negligent and/or fraudulent conduct in the future.  

Return to FAQ menu.

 

6.  What is the first step in pursuing a nursing home abuse or neglect claim?
Answer:
The first step in pursuing a nursing home abuse or neglect case is suspecting that one may have been the victim of abuse or neglect.  Many times the nursing home victim is not capable of communicating about the abuse or neglect.  Therefore, one who develops a "gut feeling" that something is wrong should consult a qualified attorney to review the matter, who often will consult with medical professionals.  This process often involves the obtaining and review of nursing home and medical records along with other pertinent information.  If it is determined that one has a good case, the next step is usually to give written notice of the claim to the individuals or entities that are believed to have committed the abuse or neglect. Return to FAQ menu.

 
7.  What if I am told by an attorney that I do not have a good case?
Answer:
Determining whether or not one has a "good case" is not always an exact science.  Because such determinations involve the professional judgment (based upon many factors and considerations) of medical experts and attorneys, it is recommended that one seek a "second opinion" from one or more qualified attorneys if told that one's case is without merit.  Return to FAQ menu.


8.   What about the costs involved in pursuing a case?
Answer:
Some attorneys (including the sponsor of this website) will agree to handle nursing home abuse and neglect cases on a contingency fee arrangement.  This means that the attorney will not charge an hourly rate for his services, but instead will be paid a percentage of the recovery in the event of a settlement or judgment.  In many instances, such attorneys will also pay the case development expenses (such as expert fees, deposition costs, etc.) with the understanding that he or she will recoup such costs only in the event of a recovery.   Therefore, one may be able to secure legal representation without having to pay any attorney's fees or expenses out of one's own pockets. 
Return to FAQ menu.


9.  How long will a nursing home abuse or neglect case take?
Answer:
There is simply no easy answer to this question.  The vast majority of all cases, including nursing home abuse and neglect cases, are settled prior to trial.  Some cases are settled prior to the filing of a lawsuit, while others are settled during litigation or even on the "steps of the courthouse" just before trial.  A nursing home abuse and neglect  case, if litigated to trial, could last a number of years.  One who pursues a nursing home abuse and neglect case should understand from the outset that a quick resolution cannot be guaranteed.  Return to FAQ menu.

 
10.  How long does one have to bring a nursing home abuse or neglect claim?
Answer:
"Statutes of limitation" govern the length of time one has to file a lawsuit or be forever barred from pursuing such claim.  Under Georgia law, different statute of limitations periods apply as to personal injury cases under various circumstances.  In some cases, the statute of limitations may be as short as one year, while under different circumstances, it may be eight years or more.  Many factors bear upon when the applicable statute of limitations period expires including the age of the plaintiff, the type of personal injury claim, the particular facts giving rise to the injury, and others.  One must make absolute certain that they are aware of when their statute of limitations period expires, or risk jeopardizing their legal rights.  An experienced personal injury lawyer can be of assistance in this regard.     

A potential claimant seeking the advice of an attorney should do so without delay. 
  In certain cases, there may also be other deadlines that may also impact the case.  For example, claims against government entities may require that the entity or entities be put on "notice" much earlier than the the statute of limitations period.  Furthermore, given that expert and legal analysis must be done prior to filing a lawsuit, you should not wait until the statute of limitations period is nearing its end because the attorney may not have enough time to complete his or her review prior to its expiration.  

There are other benefits to securing obtaining counsel early on as well.  Memories of the event or events in question tend to fade in witnesses, potential witnesses may later be unavailable because they have moved, become incapacitated, etc. 

  Return to FAQ menu.


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