Thousands of nursing home residents are injured in accidental falls each year. In fact, according to information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between one-half and three-quarters of nursing home residents fall each year. Fortunately, some of these injuries may be compensable by filing a personal injury claim against the person or facility responsible for your or your loved one’s fall.
Nursing Home Liability
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities should always meet the medical needs of their residents, many of whom may be prone to issues such as poor balance or cognitive difficulties. In addition, both state and federal laws require that nursing homes maintain certain standards regarding patient safety and care. The reality, however, is that nursing homes do not always follow these standards—sometimes with disastrous consequences for residents. Even when they are in line with regulations, nursing home staff may make mistakes that result in injury to patients.
Under the legal doctrine of “negligence per se,” legal standards imposed by law can operate as the applicable standard of care when trying to determine negligence. To use a simple example, a driver who is driving faster than the speed limit is “negligent” because they are speeding. In the context of nursing homes, the standards are often more complicated, and it may be more difficult to show that nursing homes did not comply with the law, but the principle remains the same. As a result, when falls are the result of non-compliance with the applicable state or federal regulations, it may be sufficient to establish legal liability for any losses incurred.
Common Causes of Nursing Home Falls
There are many potential ways that nursing home neglect could cause a resident to fall. Below are some common causes of nursing home falls.
Lack of supervision
Part of the job of nursing home staff is to monitor and supervise residents when they might injure themselves. Many nursing home residents have mobility issues, and they might require assistance to walk down the hall, use the restroom, or even get out of a wheelchair or bed. When staff members fail to provide necessary supervision and assistance to residents, someone can easily lose their balance or strength and fall, suffering serious injuries.
While some falls happen without any notice to staff members, there should be protocols in place for staff to properly supervise residents to avoid falling and suffering harm.
Lack of handrails
Because nursing homes realize that many residents might have lessened balance, coordination, or strength, these facilities should have handrails along all walkways and other areas where people might be walking or standing. This way, residents can hold the handrails to help them avoid falling should they stumble or lose their balance.
However, some nursing homes do not have handrails everywhere they should, and residents traveling through these areas of the home do not have anything to support them if they start to fall. The same is true if existing handrails are damaged, poorly maintained, or otherwise incapable of providing necessary support for residents.
Exposed electrical cords
In our modern world, electrical cords are unavoidable. From televisions to coffee machines, the appliances we use every day need to stay plugged into wall outlets.
Unfortunately, electrical cords running across the floor pose a significant tripping hazard, even when they are not in a long-term care environment. Long-term care facilities should have designs that accommodate people with mobility or vision issues, and they must take extra precautions to ensure that electrical cords are hidden or positioned in a way that minimizes the risk they pose to residents and visitors.
Nursing homes often have a variety of activities to keep residents occupied and enjoying their lives. However, they must provide activities appropriate for the health and abilities of the participants. For example, some nursing homes might have dance lessons or events, and many residents might enjoy them. However, dancing might not be an appropriate activity for residents with high fall risks.
If residents are allowed to participate in activities that might have a fall risk, staff members should always provide the necessary supervision and assistance from start to finish. If staff gets distracted, it might lead to a fall and serious injuries.
Adequate lighting in nursing homes is critical for resident safety, as many residents have vision problems or other issues that make them more likely to fall. This means that nursing homes should be well lit, especially in areas where falls are more likely, such as stairwells or common areas. When residents can’t see well, they can suffer serious falls that would be avoidable had the facility installed adequate lighting.
Nursing homes should always ensure they have adequate security to keep residents from exiting the facility and wandering off without proper supervision and assistance. When a nursing home is unsecured, there’s nothing to stop someone from roaming the grounds or even leaving the property on their own.
Some residents might get lost or confused, while others might run into obstacles like streets with heavy traffic, uneven sidewalks, curbs, and more. These conditions might lead to a fall. In addition, when a resident leaves a nursing home unsupervised, they might not have canes, walkers, or other assistance that they usually need to walk properly. Unsecured facilities can lead to falls in many ways.
Nursing home residents can have many ailments and injuries, and it is important for medical staff to properly diagnose each condition to keep residents safe. If the medical team fails to properly diagnose a condition, the resident or staff might not be aware of limitations or impairments that might impede their ability to walk.
Many medical conditions can cause weakness and stiffness, while a variety of injuries can cause pain or other problems when attempting to walk or stand. A misdiagnosis can lead to inadequate treatment of conditions, as well as a heightened fall risk, which can lead to preventable injuries.
Medications are often needed to manage symptoms and treat medical conditions, though most medications come with side effects. If a nursing home administers too much medication to a resident or fails to supervise them after giving them medication with known side effects, it might lead to a fall. The resident might think they can walk, only to find out—when it’s too late—that the medication resulted in dizziness or other effects that hinder their abilities. This can lead to a fall if no one is supervising them.
Under-medicating residents can lead to falls as well. If someone needs medication to keep them alert, steady, or otherwise stable, and they do not receive the necessary medication, they might try to get up from bed and end up falling.
These are far from the only reasons why nursing homes might lead to a fall and injuries to a resident. If you are unsure whether a nursing home was negligent in your loved one’s fall, you should let a Texas nursing home attorney review what happened.
We can examine whether there is evidence of negligence, as well as whether the nursing home violated any state or federal regulations. Speak with our legal team as soon as possible to learn about your loved one’s rights following a fall injury.
Injuries and Losses from Nursing Home Falls
When older adults fall, the resulting complications can be much more serious than if the same fall happened to a younger person. As a result, any time an older adult falls, the facility should conduct a thorough medical evaluation to determine whether any serious injuries exist. When medical help is not provided, it may establish a departure from the accepted standard of care and can be the basis for legal liability for any damages that a victim sustains.
Some common injuries that might result when a nursing home resident falls include:
Hip fractures are one of the more common issues that result from older adult falls, and they can lead to extremely serious complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 300,000 seniors over the age of 65 end up in the hospital for hip fractures, and the large majority of those fractures (95%) happen due to falls.
Hip fractures are serious injuries for older adults. They often require surgery, which has higher risks for seniors with weakened health. Often, nursing home residents can’t walk unassisted after a fractured hip.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injuries often occur when nursing home residents fall and hit their heads or are hit in the head by other objects. All TBIs are serious injuries, even when medical professionals designate them as “mild” based on various diagnostic criteria, as they can all result in significant long-term complications and issues.
In many cases, traumatic brain injuries result in issues like memory loss, confusion, problems communicating, and emotional regulation struggles. In particularly severe cases, TBIs can result in long-term cognitive issues that can result in the loss of the ability to communicate and engage in tasks victims once enjoyed.
A senior with a TBI might experience:
- Long-term unconsciousness
- Memory loss
- Loss of reading or communication abilities
- Depression and anxiety
- Irritability and anger
- Loss of balance and coordination
- Loss of speech abilities
All of these effects can have a significant impact on the quality of the senior’s remaining life.
When nursing home residents suffer spinal cord injuries, the results can be catastrophic. Complete spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis below the site of the injury, and incomplete SCIs can leave victims with pain, limited mobility, loss of sensation, and other issues. Nursing home residents who suffer spinal cord injuries often become bedridden, which can, in turn, lead to other issues that may severely affect their quality of life and ability to enjoy the activities they enjoyed before their accident. In the most severe cases, SCIs can be fatal or directly lead to secondary medical issues that are ultimately fatal.
There are many other bones that nursing home residents can break when they fall, including:
Some fractures might need surgery to align the bone and insert hardware. Others might take months to heal, and the resident cannot walk or stand independently in the meantime. Having limited mobility can lead to other health issues, and recovery might require extensive physical therapy—if the resident ever fully recovers at all.
Contusions and Lacerations
While “cuts and bruises” might not be a huge concern for younger individuals, they are more serious injuries when they happen to an older adult. Older skin tissues break down and bruise easier, often leading to larger bruises that have a difficult time healing. These areas can get re-bruised over and over again, leading to a chronic and painful problem.
When a nursing home resident suffers a laceration in a fall, the risk of complications might be higher than for a younger individual. Many seniors develop different bleeding disorders, or they might be on medication that decreases blood clotting abilities. If a laceration does not get proper treatment from the nursing home staff, the risk of a life-threatening infection can develop.
All of the above injuries and more can require medical attention, confinement to a bed or wheelchair, and more. Many people underestimate the losses that residents might suffer due to an injury, but the consequences are extensive.
Additional Medical Treatment
Nursing home residents often need regular medical care and attention for various conditions, and a fall-related injury will only add to their treatment regimen.
Medical treatment for fall injuries can include:
- Emergency transportation to a nearby hospital
- Emergency room treatment, including diagnostic tests
- Admission to the hospital
- Surgical procedures
- Medical equipment
- Assistive devices
- Physical therapy
All of these costs will add up very quickly, and the resident should not be responsible for such expenses if the nursing home’s negligence caused the fall.
Rehabilitation can be a much longer process for seniors than for younger and healthier adults. Older adults are often starting with weaker muscles and joints, so building up strength after a fracture or soft tissue injury can be a lengthy process.
In addition, if a resident suffers a brain injury, rehabilitation can be challenging if they have preexisting cognitive deficiencies. In fact, certain residents can never rehabilitate to their pre-TBI states.
Loss of Quality of Life
Nursing home residents might already struggle with many aspects of everyday life, and suffering a fall injury can only make their lives harder. When an injury causes additional physical or cognitive limitations, it can result in less participation in activities, socialization, or other things the resident previously enjoyed. Some residents can no longer leave their rooms following an injury, which can take a huge toll on their happiness.
Pain and Suffering
Many injuries lead to significant physical and emotional pain and suffering that can go on for weeks or even months. Fortunately for victims, non-economic damages like pain and suffering are compensable under state law. Because these damages can be difficult to prove, anyone seeking compensation for pain and suffering must speak to an experienced attorney before accepting a settlement offer or taking other steps that could affect their legal rights.
In some cases, a nursing home resident might pass away because of fall injuries, such as during surgery for a fractured hip or due to a severe TBI. In these situations, the families of the resident can suffer losses due to the preventable and premature death of their loved one.
These and other losses may be compensable through a personal injury claim (or wrongful death claim) against the party or parties responsible for the fall. To obtain such compensation you must prove the nursing home was negligent, which can be challenging.
Nursing homes will often do whatever is possible to avoid liability, as liability might also come with civil penalties, bad press, and more. You can expect the facility to put up a fight, so you want to have a nursing home injury lawyer handling the case who knows how to stand up to negligent facilities and their insurance companies.
Speak With Our Nursing Home Injury Lawyers Right Away!
There’s no doubt that a fall disrupts a nursing home resident’s life in many different ways and leads to many losses. If your loved one’s life changed due to a fall injury, contact our legal team as soon as possible.
The attorneys at Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers are dedicated to helping victims of nursing home falls recover and do not collect payment from our nursing home clients unless we recover compensation for their injuries. For your free consultation with our nursing home lawyers, call our office today at 800-898-4877.