The Unacknowledged Problem of Sexual Abuse in Nursing Home: Recognizing the Signs and Taking Legal Action
The unfortunate prevalence of nursing home abuse and neglect is an issue that is fairly well-known across the country. Florida, due to its large senior population, is especially vulnerable to this problem, which means family members should be watchful for signs of recent harm. Many people associate abuse in a nursing home with physical assault, and do not contemplate the possibility of sexual abuse. However, this type of reprehensible activity does occur, but it is hard to gauge the frequency of these attacks because reports of these types of assaults are lumped in with all other types of physical abuse. Thus, as reported in a recent article in the Miami Herald, sexual abuse in nursing homes is a hidden problem nationwide, and specifically discusses how a lack of oversight and unwillingness by facilities to report such incidents combine to hinder efforts to address this issue. While prosecuting the offenders is important, holding the nursing home legally accountable for failing to protect a resident is equally critical. When a resident suffers an injury while under care of a nursing home, the facility can be held liable for the harm and made to pay compensation. In addition, because nursing homes have a business interest against bringing attention to this issue, family members must be vigilant about monitoring loved ones for signs of abuse. A discussion of a nursing home’s obligation to protect residents from harm, and how to spot signs of sexual abuse, will follow below.
Nursing Home’s Legal Responsibility
Florida law grants nursing home residents over 20 legal rights related to the type of care they should receive and the amount of autonomy they should be allowed to exercise. Licensed nursing home facilities are bound to adhere to and follow the dictates of these rights, and among them is one that specifically states residents have the right to be free from:
- mental and physical abuse;
- corporal punishment;
- extended involuntary seclusion; and
- physical and chemical restraints, unless authorized by a doctor.
Sexual abuse would fall under this provision. When any of these rights are violated, the resident (often through family members) can initiate a lawsuit for the violation and for negligence against the owners and administrators of the nursing home. In order to prove the facility was legally responsible for the harm experienced by the resident, the following must be proven:
- the nursing home owed the resident a duty (imposed by State law and the contract with residents);
- this duty was breached (harm to a resident indicates safety protocols were lacking); and
- the breach was the direct cause of the resident’s injury.
If negligence is established, the nursing home could be required to pay damages to the injured resident for costs related to medical care and pain and suffering.
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by nursing home staff and other residents, so family members should be prepared to look at a number of individuals as potential suspects. Typically, resident-on-resident assaults occur when the nursing home fails to properly monitor resident behavior, and/or restrict access for residents that pose safety risks to others. Thus, family members should note how well the staff keeps track of the residents’ whereabouts and how often they check on the status of each resident. If sexual abuse does occur, the following are some signs that often follow attacks of this nature:
- new difficulty standing or walking;
- pelvic injury;
- bruising on the inner thighs or genital area;
- extreme agitation;
- panic attacks;
- inappropriate or unusual sexual behavior; and
- sudden withdrawal from social interactions.
Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
Abuse of a nursing home resident is a horrible violation of trust, and the Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado are here to help you hold these facilities responsible for these lapses of trust. We know what it takes to prove a nursing home is liable for an injury, and offers free consultations to discuss the merits of your case. Contact us today.