Nursing Home Abuse
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse is a type of abuse or neglect that occurs when caregivers in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities take advantage of their patients’ weakened physical and mental states. This abuse can happen either intentionally (such as when a nursing home employee hits a patient) or negligently (such as when nursing home staff forget to feed or bathe a patient). Nursing home abuse is a particularly vicious form of abuse because, like children, many seniors may not be aware that it is happening or be able to defend themselves. In these situations, help must often come from the outside, often with the assistance of an attorney.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
“Nursing home abuse” is an umbrella term that encompasses many different behaviors. Some of the most common types of nursing home abuse we see include:
- Physical abuse: Physical abuse is any action toward a patient that can cause physical harm, such as hitting, pinching, scratching, biting, shoving, or hair-pulling. It can also involve the overuse of physical restraints or intentionally failing to care for an injury. See California Welf. & Inst. Code §15610.63 (defining physical abuse of an elder);
- Sexual abuse: Sexual abuse involves unwanted sexual attention or exploitation. It occurs most often to patients who are unable to express their desires to be free from such attention, such as with those patients suffering from dementia or other forms of mental incapacitation. See California Welf. & Inst. Code 15610.63(e)(defining the forms of sexual abuse that constitute physical elder abuse).
- Psychological abuse: Psychological abuse encompasses a broad range of actions that includes yelling, criticizing, gaslighting, humiliating, or shaming the patient. See California Welf. & Inst. Code 15610.53 (“mental suffering” defined to include a wide range of psychological/emotional suffering).
- Financial abuse: Financial abuse occurs when a nursing home employee takes advantage of a patient’s financial assets by stealing or otherwise compromising them. It includes actions such as theft of the patient’s money or personal effects, theft from bank accounts, and identity theft. See California Welf. & Inst. Code 15610.63(a) (defining financial elder abuse).
- Neglect: Neglect is an indirect form of abuse that is often the result of understaffing or inadequate staff training. It occurs when nursing home employees fail to properly care for their patients, such as forgetting to feed or bathe them, forgetting to take them to physical therapy, and letting patient calls for assistance go unanswered. See California Welf. & Inst. Code 15610.57 (defining neglect as a form of elder abuse).
- Resident-to-resident abuse: Resident-to-resident abuse occurs when one resident of a nursing home engages in any of the above behaviors toward another resident. Although this type of abuse does not directly involve caregivers, it can nonetheless expose a nursing home to legal liability, as nursing home employees owe their patients a duty to keep them free from harm.
If your loved one has suffered any of these forms of abuse or a combination thereof, the nursing home likely has breached its duty of care and you may be able to pursue legal action.
Nursing Home Abuse is Common
Nursing home abuse is becoming an ever-larger problem. According to recent studies, there are over 3.2 million adults living in nursing homes and other long-term care residential facilities in the United States, and as many as 40% of all adults will enter a nursing home at some point in their lives. As the American population ages, these numbers will only grow. At the 2010 census, there were more than 40 million people in the United States (roughly 13% of the population), who were over the age of 65, and that percentage is projected to increase to 18% over the next 40 years.
With an increase in the population served by nursing homes, there likely will also be an increase in incidences of nursing home abuse if current trends hold. Consider, for instance:
- Between 1999 and 2001, almost one-third of nursing homes were cited for violations of federal standards that could result in harm to residents
- Nearly 10% of those nursing homes were found to have violations that posed a risk of serious injury or death
- Over 40% of nursing home residents have reported abuse
- Over 90% of nursing home resident have reported neglect
- A 2010 study found that up to half of all nursing home employees have admitted to abusing or neglecting elderly patients
- More than half of all Certified Nursing Assistants (CANs) have admitted to verbally abusing, cursing, and yelling at nursing home patients
If you are considering placing a loved one in the care of a nursing home, these statistics can be frightening. If your loved one is currently in a nursing home, you might be wondering whether they have already experienced any kind of abuse or neglect. What these statistics show is that, unfortunately, nursing home abuse affects a significant portion of the senior population and that it is imperative to stay vigilant in guarding your loved ones from it. If you or a loved one has been subjected to such abuse, speak with a California nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible.
Nursing Home Abuse in California and the Bay Area
In California, the problem of nursing home abuse is particularly acute. According to information published by the Office of the Attorney General, 13% of all complaints to the California Office of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman concern elder abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation in 2009, which is more than twice the national rate of 5%.
This problem is likely to intensify in the coming years. The Census Bureau estimated that, during the 25-year period between the years 2000 and 2025, California’s elderly population will have doubled to 6.4 million, and we are currently close to 6 million as of 2019. Statewide, there are currently about 111,000 people live in nursing homes, while about 150,000 live in all types of licensed assisted living facilities. However, the Public Policy Institute of California projects that, by 2030, this number could rise by 32,000, which will outstrip the state’s capacity. The institute has also found that the Bay Area currently has the largest discrepancy between existing nursing home capacity and projected demand.
As the senior population in California increases, the numbers of persons in nursing and assisted care facilities increases as does their risk of abuse and neglect. Nursing homes are often understaffed and those on duty are often untrained to fully care for the elderly. If you have a loved one in a home or assisted care facility be alert for signs of abuse or neglect and if you suspect anything do something about it. Alert the home administrator, the authorities, and contact counsel.
How to Identify Potential Nursing Home Abuse
The problem of nursing home abuse is compounded by the reality that many nursing home residents are either unable to report abuse due to diminished capacity or are too ashamed to do so, especially in cases of sexual abuse. Indeed, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) estimates that, despite the various ways to report abuse, over one-quarter of all nursing home abuse cases go unreported. Another compounding factor is that a nursing home patient’s family and friends cannot monitor them 24 hours a day, meaning that they very rarely witness incidents of abuse.
Nevertheless, in the absence of direct evidence or the reports of patients, nursing home abuse can often be inferred by the victim’s mental or physical state. Common signs of nursing home abuse include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Broken bones from falls
- Withdrawn behavior
- Changes in personal hygiene
- The presence of environmental hazards such as slippery floors, bad lighting, and medical equipment that is in poor condition
Although every case is different, the attorneys at the Evans Law Firm are skilled in nursing home abuse investigations and can often identify many signs of abuse that would otherwise go unnoticed.
If you believe that a loved one has suffered abuse in a nursing home, you may be able to pursue a civil claim against the facility. Contact Ingrid M. Evans and her team at the Evans Law Firm for a free consultation by calling (415) 441-8669 or by email. We can help guide your case through a jury trial or toward an equitable settlement.
Damages Available in Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Nursing home abuse cases fall under the general umbrella of personal injury cases, for which there are two major types of damages available: compensatory (both general and special), and punitive. Below, we’ll examine each type of damages and how a nursing home abuse plaintiff could recover each of them.
Compensatory damages, as their name would suggest, are designed to “compensate” the plaintiff for injuries he or she received. Whether those damages are considered general or special depends on the specific type of damage the plaintiff suffered.
General Compensatory Damages
General compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for “general” injuries for which it is often difficult to arrive at a specific dollar amount. Cal. Civ. Code § 3333. Major categories of general damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss or impairment of physical capacity
Nursing home abuse victims could suffer from any or all of these types of damages, but pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss or impairment of physical capacity are particularly pertinent.
Special Compensatory Damages
Special compensatory damages are designed to make the plaintiff “whole” — that is, to return the plaintiff to the position they would have been in had the events giving rise to the litigation not occurred. This category of damages includes:
- Medical bills
- Future medical bills
- Loss of earnings
- Loss of future earnings
- Property damage
Unlike general compensatory damages, it is often fairly easy to calculate the exact dollar amount of special compensatory damages the plaintiff is owed. While loss of earnings and loss of future earnings likely would not be major sources of damages for nursing home abuse victims, the medical bills they incurred as a result of the abuse and any future medical bills they incur could be significant.
Punitive damages (also known as “exemplary damages”) are designed to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff, and are available only in cases where the defendant’s conduct is especially egregious. Cal. Civ. Code § 3294. In California, a court may award punitive damages in cases where the defendant has been guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(a). Malice in this context refers to “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(c)(1). For nursing home abuse victims, this definition would encompass intentional abuse — such as hitting, biting, scratching, over- or under-medicating, or otherwise harming the victim on purpose.
Lawsuit vs. Insurance Claim: Which Should You Choose?
After an individual suffers an injury, including an injury due to nursing home abuse, they have two options to pursue recovery: They may either file an insurance claim or initiate a civil lawsuit. While insurance claims are generally cheaper and quicker than lawsuits, personal injury claims offer a number of advantages over insurance claims to victims of nursing home abuse. For example, insurance companies have an incentive to protect their insured (i.e., the nursing home) and pay out as little as possible, whereas judges and juries in a personal injury suit must approach the parties without bias. Further, lawsuits can be more thorough than insurance claims, since the process of discovery during a lawsuit is extensive and can often uncover additional evidence of wrongdoing of which the plaintiff was unaware. Insurance policies also contain policy limits, which may or may not provide enough coverage to fully compensate the victim. Thus, you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each method of recovery before deciding to file an insurance claim.
Contact our California Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers
Victims of nursing home abuse can often suffer injuries that take significant physical, emotional, and financial tolls on them. To begin the process of filing a civil claim against a nursing home to recover for your damages, contact the California nursing home abuse lawyers at Evans Law Firm by calling 414-441-8669.
About Attorney Ingrid Evans
Ingrid Evans, the founding partner at Evans Law Firm, Inc. was named a finalist for California Consumer Attorney of the Year in 2009 for her work on the case of Buhs v. American International Group, in which she recovered approximately $5 million dollars in restitution for 750 senior victims who were sold deferred annuities by AIG and its agents. She was also named a finalist in 2012 for Consumer Attorney of the Year in a case where she recovered more than $9 million dollars for 17,000 senior citizen victims.
Ms. Evans was appointed by California Attorney General Kamala Harris to be on an elder abuse committee working group and received the 2012 Donald N. Phelps Visionary Leadership Award for raising public awareness and advocating for positive change for senior citizens from the Elder Financial Protection Network.
Leading the San Francisco elder abuse lawyers at Evans Law Firm, Inc., Ms. Evans has written legislation to protect seniors that has been enacted into law. She has testified before California senate and congressional committees, the Department of Insurance, and has organized senior victims to testify before a United States Senate subcommittee on issues involving the protection of senior citizens.
Her elder abuse cases have appeared on NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, Fox News, San Francisco’s local KRON Channel 4 and KGO Channel 7 stations, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, California Lawyer, and Miami-Herald.
The Evans Law Firm, Inc. Stands Up for Victims of Nursing Home Abuse
Our nursing home abuse attorneys handle a wide range of cases, including:
- Caregiver fraud
- Insufficient staffing in nursing homes
- Long-term care
- Nursing home abuse
- Obtaining elder abuse restraining orders
- Obtaining domestic violence and other restraining orders
- Abandonment and elder abuse in California
Our lawyers take a hands-on approach with our clients throughout every step of the process. We provide personalized attention for each of our clients, and make it a priority to provide prompt, accurate responses to inquiries, and the best possible representation for legal cases. As a team, we know that every client comes to us with a unique situation and set of concerns, and we strive to provide anything and everything you need.
Free, No Obligation Consultation
If you or a family member has been injured or have had money taken from you by a caregiver, insurance company or “friend,” call the Evans Law Firm at 888-503-8267 or 415-441-8669 to discuss your potential abuse case with a California nursing home abuse lawyer. You can also contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Located in San Francisco, our financial elder abuse and caregiver fraud attorneys accept cases throughout the Bay Area, including Alameda County and Marin County, and also throughout Southern California.