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Establishing Elopement Liability

Nursing Homes Can Be Held Liable For Patients That Wander Under California Elopement Liability 

Recent research has found that 20 percent of nursing home patients with dementia are reported to have wandered (also known as elopement). Nursing homes have a responsibility to protect its residents, particularly against knowing hazards such as elopement. A nursing home elopement occurs when a resident leaves the facility without the knowledge of the staff. To establish nursing home liability for an elopement and make the family whole, California nursing home lawyers must prove two elements:

  1. The nursing home did not meet the prescribed standard of care by preventing the elopement. (prevention)
  2. The facility did not respond appropriately after the elopement occurred. (response)

Whatever scenario your loved suffered, 

Determining Elopement Liability in California 

OBRA (also known as the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act for nursing homes (OBRA)) requires nursing facilities to identify residents at risk for wandering and develop individualized care plans setting forth specific interventions to manage wandering behaviors. This individualized care plan should be reviewed and revised to accommodate changes in the resident’s physical and mental condition. In determining the extent of a nursing home’s liability, the elder or his/her family should focus on the following questions:

  • Was the resident appropriately assessed for the risk of elopement?
  • Did the facility implement meaningful, individualized care plan for interventions aimed at preventing elopement and did the staff consistently implement them?
  • Did the facility have policies and procedures designed to prevent elopement?
  • Was the facility equipped with exit alarms or other devices designed to prevent elopement and did the facility inspect and maintain alarm systems appropriately?
  • Are there documents or resident charts that include these patient assessments and individualized plans?

Take Action Against Elopement with the Help of the California Assisted Living and Nursing Home Attorneys at Evans Law 

In addition to prevention, the nursing home will be liable if the staff failed to respond to the elopement in a timely and appropriate manner. Again, in determining the extent of a nursing home’s liability, the elder or his/her family should focus on the following questions:

  • What were the staff’s actions and timeline after the elopement occurred?
  • Did the respond quickly, completely, and efficiently in searching for the resident.
  • Did the nursing home notify management, family members, the resident’s physician, and law enforcement officials about the elopement and if so, was it timely?
  • Was the staff appropriately trained regarding elopement response?

Failure to take these simple steps can sometimes lead bodily harm and even death, leaving families devastated. If your family has suffered a loss because of a situation like the ones described above, contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer at The Evans Law Firm at 415-441-8669 or

FAQs About Elopement Liability

What Are the Risks to Residents if They Elope?

Nursing home residents are there for a reason. Many residents are unable to care for themselves and, due to cognitive decline, may not be as sharply attuned to the inherent dangers of the world as they once were. Elopement from nursing homes pose extreme physical risks for residents who engage in it, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Some of those risks include:

These risks can result in injuries to residents ranging from temporary discomfort all the way up to death.

What Percentage of Resident Elopement Lawsuits Involve the Death of a Resident?

It is difficult to state with precision what percentage of nursing home resident elopement lawsuits involve the death of a resident, as there is no centralized database of such information. However, some attempts have been made to estimate the percent of elopements that result in death. One study found that there was a 25% fatality rate when a resident eloped and was not found within 24 hours. The death rate rose to 54% for residents who were missing for 96 hours or more. If you feel that someone you care about is at risk of elopement and a nursing home is not taking adequate steps to prevent it, please contact the California assisted living and nursing home attorneys at Evans Law, Inc., to help prevent a tragedy.

What Is an Elopement Incident?

It is not unusual for nursing home residents to roam around the facilities where they live. Such behavior is not necessarily unsafe, provided that nursing home staff monitor the residents and the facility has the appropriate safeguards in place. However, elopement generally occurs where a nursing home resident wanders unsupervised and eventually makes it out of the facility. This can encompass a wide range of behaviors and incidents, including:

  • Slipping out of the facility unnoticed, whether intentionally or unintentionally
  • Enlisting the help of a friend, family member, or other resident to leave the facility
  • Getting separated or intentionally leaving a group during an offsite outing
  • Leaving the facility to attend an event (e.g., church, doctor’s appointment, haircut, family function) and not returning
  • Nursing home visitors inadvertently enabling elopement by holding doors open for a resident

Motivations for resident elopement vary. For example, some residents may elope because they simply are wandering aimlessly and wind up in a place where they shouldn’t be. Some residents may be prompted to elope by an environmental stimulus, such as a particular sound or smell. Others may elope because they think they need to go home, visit a friend or relative, or feed a pet.

What Does Elopement Risk Mean?

Certain nursing home residents are at a higher risk of elopement incidents than others due to their personalities and health conditions. This can include:

  • Residents who are particularly strong-willed
  • Residents who display physical aggression
  • Residents who display general restlessness or agitation
  • Residents suffering dementia or Alzheimer’s
  • Residents whose psychoactive medication has recently been changed
  • Residents experiencing unusual stress

If someone you care about is at a high risk of elopement — or has eloped in the past and suffered injury — please consider contacting a California assisted living and nursing home attorney.

The Difference Between Wandering and Elopement

Wandering and elopement are related but distinguishable concepts. Wandering generally occurs where a resident with a cognitive impairment moves around inside the facility without an awareness of their personal safety needs. It poses a risk that the resident could fall or wander into a potentially unsafe area of the facility (such as the kitchen or laundry facilities). Elopement generally occurs where a resident wanders to such a degree that they actually make it out of the facility unnoticed. As such, elopement can be understood as an extreme form of wandering. A resident who wanders generally is more likely to elope, so nursing facility staff should take such incidents extremely seriously. While wandering poses risks of its own, wandering that turns to elopement poses far greater risks.

Preventing Elopement

Nursing homes are legally obligated to provide healthy and safe living conditions for their residents. This requires facilities to see to residents’ nutrition, medication, and hygiene, but it also requires them to ensure that residents receive adequate supervision and assistance to prevent accidents. Nursing homes may be liable under both federal and state law if they fail to take the appropriate steps to prevent wandering and their failure results in a resident being injured.

Some of the most common methods of preventing nursing home resident elopement include:

  • Making sure the nursing home where your loved one resides is qualified to care for Alzheimer’s patients.  You can see a list of qualified Alzheimer’s facilities at California State List: Alzheimer’s Facilities (
  • Inquiring about residents’ propensity to restlessness and past incidents of wandering or elopement during admission
  • Developing comprehensive care plans for each resident that take elopement risk into account
  • Having written protocols in place should an elopement incident occur
  • Allowing residents to wander under supervision and otherwise providing mental stimulation
  • Disguising external exits or using controlled egress locks
  • Equipping external doors with alarms that sound if they are left propped open
  • Providing residents with GPS-enabled bracelets
  • Using motion-activated external lighting
  • Placing cameras throughout the interior and exterior of the facility, especially around external exits
  • Placing high-risk residents away from external exits
  • Encouraging interaction between staff and residents
  • Securing windows in a manner allowed by local fire code

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities should also be aware of situational and environmental conditions that can lead to elopement and take active steps to prevent it. Some of those conditions include:

  • Newly admitted residents: New admissions may not display an overt propensity to wander, resulting in lighter supervision from staff
  • Meal times: Rooms full of people milling around — like dining rooms — can make it harder for staff to notice that a particular resident is missing
  • Shift changes: Shift changes can often be confusing for residents, and staff are much more likely to prop doors open during this time
  • Holidays: Many nursing home residents leave their facilities to attend family functions during holidays, which increases the risk of elopement. Typically there are also a greater number of visitors to nursing homes during holidays, which can increase the risk of a visitor inadvertently enabling an elopement.

A California assisted living and nursing home attorney can help you determine whether improper elopement prevention protocols were to blame for your loved one’s injury.

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