What to Do If a Nursing Home Contributed to Your Loved One’s Death
The primary job of a nursing home is to provide residents with the proper care and attention they need to maintain or achieve the highest level of health and comfort possible. Much of this care, beyond direct treatment of the resident, is regulating the nursing home environment so that it is a safe place to live. Failure to do so could constitute nursing home abuse if a resident is injured or dies due to negligent practices. It is easy to forget how dependent the elderly and infirm are on others to protect against unsanitary conditions and inhospitable temperatures. Florida is known for its hot weather, which can kill people if a facility is not sufficiently regulating the air temperature. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, news reports emerged that eight residents died at a nursing home in Hollywood when residents were not evacuated after the power went out for several days. This is a tragic situation that did not have to occur, and it appears the nursing home never informed emergency authorities or State regulators of the dangerous conditions in the facility. While law enforcement is pursuing the possibility of criminal charges for these deaths, the surviving family members likely have a civil wrongful death claim to seek compensation for their losses. A discussion of type of evidence a plaintiff would need to establish the liability of nursing home in a wrongful death claim, including when punitive damages may apply, will follow below.
At its most basic, a wrongful death claim is a negligence suit brought on behalf of the deceased by his/her family. Consequently, to prove a party was negligent, the plaintiff must prove the defendant:
- had a legal duty of care;
- that the duty was breached; and
- the breach caused an injury or death.
Nursing homes, like all facilities charged with providing medical-related care, are subject to a number of State and federal regulations that govern how they should operate, including how staff must be trained/certified, proper sanitation, and the care/treatment of residents. Further, nursing homes are expected to establish and implement measures to respond to emergency situations that threaten the health and safety of residents. If an emergency situation arises, as it did for residents at the facility in Hollywood, the nursing home could be liable if it failed to take steps to secure their well-being. An appropriate response would include:
- constantly monitoring the condition of the residents;
- attempting to address the issue causing the emergency;
- failing that, removing the residents to a safe location; and
- notifying authorities, including the state regulating agency, about the situation so assistance could be provided to secure the resident’s safety.
If the staff, administrators and/or owner knew or should have known the lives of residents were endangered, and failed to adequately react to the emergency, they could face civil liability for any harm that results.
Punitive damages are permitted when it appears that defendant’s conduct was in reckless disregard for the life or safety of others, and are intended to punish the defendant for abhorrent conduct. The standard to even bring the possibility of punitive damages to a jury is very high, and must reflect behavior that was gross and flagrant, indicative of a lack of regard for human life or the potential consequences. This is a high bar to meet, and will only apply in limited and rare circumstances.
Contact a Florida Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
No one should have to suffer maltreatment in a nursing home, and if you or a loved one were harmed by negligent care, you should talk to an experienced nursing home abuse attorney about taking legal action. The Miami law firm Pita Weber & Del Prado understands how devastating these situations are, and want to help you hold the responsible party accountable. Contact us for a free consultation.