When Is A Nursing Home Liable For A Fall?
As we age, the risk of falling increases. There is a much higher chance of sustaining serious, or even life-threatening, injuries when an elderly person slips and falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five falls by people 65 and older result in serious harm, such as a broken bone or head injury. Additionally, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
Considering these statistics, it’s no surprise that preventing falls is one of the primary safety concerns in a nursing home. You have every right to expect that your loved one will be protected from this risk when you entrust them to a nursing home or other care facility. But when fall prevention protocols are not provided or are ignored and an elderly resident has suffered a serious and avoidable fall, the family has options to hold a facility accountable.
Here’s what you need to know about filing a nursing home fall lawsuit.
Why Do Elderly Nursing Home Residents Suffer Falls?
As our bodies age, our mental state and physical conditions change. Most elderly people have poor vision, balance, and mobility. Nursing home residents are also likely to be using prescription medications, which can also impact their balance. Plus, if a resident is suffering from dementia or other cognitive disease, or recently had surgery, their risk of falling increases. And if they fall once, their chances of it happening again increase even more.
While falls do occur, they shouldn’t be a regular part of a nursing home residency. In other words, falls should be the exception, not the rule. This is why the law allows families to sue a nursing home for a fall when their loved one suffers an avoidable injury inside a facility. A nursing home resident should be able to rely on professionally trained staff and mobility aids to prevent most of their falls—even when they suffer from immobility, medication, and illnesses mentioned above.
How are Falls Prevented in Nursing Homes and Hospitals?
Nursing homes are legally required to identify residents who are “fall risks.” They must also follow established fall intervention plans and protocols to protect those residents (and others) from falling. If a care facility does not follow these requirements and it results in a serious injury for a resident, it can be viewed as a form of patient neglect and provides a basis for a nursing home fall lawsuit.
Identifying Fall Risks
At the time of admission, nursing homes must review a resident’s medical history and conduct a physical and mental assessment to determine if the resident is a fall risk. Your elderly loved one will likely be categorized in this manner if they:
- Have limited use of their legs or lack mobility
- Are taking certain prescription medications
- Recently had surgery
- Have advanced cognitive disorders
- Have fallen previously
These are the most common reasons someone might be considered a fall risk, but there are many more. A quality nursing home will have a thorough process they follow to assess your elderly loved one’s chances of falling and how to mitigate that risk.
Fall Intervention Plans
Nursing homes, hospitals, and other care facilities must follow a fall intervention plan to mitigate the risk for residents—and really for everyone on site. These plans are detailed, but most will include precautions such as:
- Placing a sticker or placard on a resident’s door that visually indicates they are a fall risk
- Checking on residents at predetermined intervals, such as every 15, 30, or 60 minutes
- Creating a toilet schedule to ensure residents have help getting to the restroom
- Using pressure alarms that signal if a resident tries to get out of bed or a wheelchair on their own
- Giving residents easy access to “help” buttons they can push when they need staff assistance
- Placing fall pads around a resident’s bed
Fall intervention plans are not recommendations—they are legal requirements a nursing home must follow to help keep residents safe and healthy. If a facility does not follow the plan, it increases the chance they will be found liable in a nursing home fall lawsuit.
When nursing homes neglect to follow fall intervention plans, it is often because they are understaffed, or the staff members they do have aren’t properly trained. A lack of experienced staff members means residents won’t be monitored and supervised as well as they should be and are more likely to try to move around on their own when they should be getting help.
Are Nursing Homes Legally Liable for Allowing a Resident to Fall?
In many cases, yes. Nursing homes are legally required to protect residents from preventable falls. This is why the fall intervention plans are in place. Failing to stop preventable falls is a form of nursing home negligence because the injuries are often serious, if not deadly. Establishing this negligence will be key when suing a nursing home for a fall.
It’s important to note that liability does not shift off the nursing home if a resident doesn’t request staff help and falls after getting up on their own. Many residents lack safety awareness. The ultimate responsibility lies with the facility to supervise, assist, and monitor the patients they are being paid to protect. Residents cannot be expected to make coherent decisions when suffering from dementia, memory loss, and side effects of medications.
Why Bring a Nursing Home Fall Lawsuit?
If your elderly loved one was injured, or even killed, by a fall, suing the facility will hold it accountable for failing to mitigate the risks it was legally responsible for. This will protect the other residents in the nursing home, ensuring they don’t suffer from the same neglect. And your family can receive damages that help you bear the financial burden of the injury or loss.
What Does the Legal Process Look Like If I Sue a Nursing Home For a Fall?
It’s normal to feel intimidated by going through with a nursing home fall lawsuit, but having an experienced attorney represent your family simplifies everything. Your attorney will first gather all the details of what happened to the elderly resident and then assess the strength of your case.
One of the most critical parts of the case will be establishing the facility’s negligence, which will require determining whether the fall was preventable. Your lawyer will review all the facts in your case and will ask questions like:
- Was the resident categorized as a fall risk?
- What did the facility do to prevent falls (fall intervention plan)?
- Did the resident fall other times prior to this incident? If so, did the facility change its care plan after the other fall(s)?
- Was there more the facility could have done to prevent resident falls?
Your attorney will take on the full responsibility of proving your case. You, as the plaintiff, will assist by providing documents related to the nursing home admission, photographs taken during admission, describing what you witnessed or any communications with staff, and making decisions about settlement or trial.
Keep in mind the majority of nursing home fall lawsuits settle before trial. If you’re worried about a dramatic or lengthy court case, it is unlikely your suit will go to trial.
The Next Step After a Fall
Was your elderly resident’s fall preventable? Is the nursing home liable? Families dealing with the fallout from a loved one’s injury or death don’t have to answer these questions—that’s what we’re here for. GT Law specializes in nursing home negligence and has been helping Oklahomans hold care facilities accountable for 30 years. Contact us for a free case evaluation and we will help you get the answers you need.
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