As family members age and are no longer able to care for themselves at home, and loved ones cannot provide the necessary level of care, we often turn to nursing homes. A nursing home is a place where we expect that our loved ones will be carefully and respectfully looked after. However, sometimes a preventable accident or willful mistreatment occurs that results in the death of someone we love. When that happens, a nursing home should be held accountable.
According to the CDC, there are around 15,600 nursing homes in America, and they are responsible for the care of over 1.3 million residents. Because the majority of nursing home residents are elderly, death is a relatively common occurrence. In fact, 1 in 5 of all Americans can expect to die in a nursing home, and that increases to 1 in 4 when we consider only people over the age of 65. In a typical year, around one-third of all nursing home residents will die.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health reports that more than 700 nursing homes housing more than 80,000 Pennsylvanians. The death rate in Pennsylvania nursing homes is comparable to the national average.
Because deaths are so common in nursing homes, we often don’t question the circumstances that cause them. Tragically, too many deaths occur prematurely due to negligence, malpractice, or a lack of general observation and care by poorly-trained staff.
First of all, it’s important to note that in cases regarding a nursing home death, it may be possible for the decedent's surviving family members to file both a wrongful death action and a survival action. Both are civil suits and can be made regardless of any criminal charges, even if a criminal case was not successful.
Wrongful death claims involve a situation in which another person or entity is responsible for someone’s death and is based on losses caused by a loved one's death. A survival action is based on losses caused by the injury to the loved one, whether or not they survived. It is possible to file both types of claims if the situation warrants it.
In Pennsylvania, only the legal representative of the estate is entitled to bring a wrongful death action. This person is either someone named in the will or a surviving family member such as a spouse, child, or parent. If there are no surviving family members, another personal representative is permitted to file a claim.
In wrongful death suits, surviving family members may be able to recover the hospital, medical, funeral, burial, and estate administration expenses. The family can also attempt to recover the deceased individual's future earning potential, the value of the services and comfort they would have provided to society, and minor children can often recover for the loss of the parent’s tutelage, guidance, and moral upbringing.
When we make the difficult decision of moving a family member to a nursing home, we expect that they will be well-cared for. Unfortunately, nursing homes are not exactly altruistic organizations. Almost 70 percent of nursing homes are for-profit businesses, so cutting corners when it comes to patient care and safety isn’t uncommon. Sometimes, nursing homes fail to meet proper standards of care to improve the bottom line, which can have disastrous consequences.
Nursing homes have many duties that are both morally and legally expected of them:
When a nursing home fails in even one of the above duties and it results in the death of a resident, they can be held liable for wrongful death.
The first step is to determine the cause of death and determine if it could have been reasonably prevented by following proper protocols. Did they fail in one of the above duties? Could a reasonable person have foreseen that an injury or death might occur due to the facility’s practices at the time?
It’s important to note that nursing homes will rarely admit to any error or wrongdoing, so don’t take their word for it if they say that there’s nothing more they could have done to protect your loved one. It is incredibly helpful to get a second, or even a third, opinion to determine if you should proceed with a wrongful death case.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations on wrongful death claims is two years. This means that, in most cases, you only have two years from the date of death to file a claim. This may seem like sufficient time, but wrongful death is often difficult to prove. Frequently, intensive investigation, interviews with nursing home staff and residents, and consultation with experts are required. You must contact a nursing home lawyer as early as possible, as a good legal team will help navigate this difficult process for you.
If your loved one passed away unexpectedly in a nursing home and you suspect neglect, abuse, or malpractice was involved, you may be entitled to compensation. The expert legal team at Ross Feller Casey has the experience needed to get the justice your loved one deserves. We have a team of doctors on staff, so we have the expertise required to understand your case's potential medical complexities. Additionally, our wrongful death cases are worked on a contingency basis, which means we only get paid if we win.
It’s important to act quickly, so don’t delay. Holding those who may be responsible accountable can help prevent a similar situation from happening to another nursing home resident. Call us today for a free consultation.
Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.