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Establishing Elopement Liability

Nursing Homes Can Be Held Liable For Patients That Wander/Elopement Liability and Are Injured

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, 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)


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?


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 elder abuse lawyer at The Evans Law Firm at 415-441-8669 or info@evanslaw.com.

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