Our firm has been suing nursing homes since the 1990s. In fact, Suthers & Harper was one of the first firms in the United States to obtain a successful jury verdict against a nursing home for neglecting and abusing a resident. When we first started accepting these cases in the 1990s, the two most common types of injuries that we saw recurring in nursing homes were pressure sores and fall-related injuries. Regrettably, 20 years later, these are still the two most common injuries we see in the nursing home setting. Fall-related injuries significantly impact the lives of residents and their families. Some of the more significant, life-altering injuries resulting from falls in nursing homes include hip fractures and subdural hematomas (brain bleeds). When a resident falls in a nursing home and suffers a serious injury, it often causes, or contributes to the cause, of impairment, disability, and a decrease in enjoyment of life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied the impact of falls on elderly individuals. As many as 75% of elderly individuals who reside in nursing homes sustain at least one fall yearly. That is twice as much as the number of falls among older individuals living at home or within the community at large. According to the CDC, as many as 20% of the falls that occur in nursing homes result in a serious injury.
In examining why falls occur in nursing homes, one must look at the patients’ risk factors as well as environmental factors. Often, residents of nursing homes have medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, impairment from a prior stroke, diabetic neuropathy, and visual impairment, which can affect their balance and ability to walk. Residents may also have conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, that can affect their judgment. These conditions place the residents at an increased risk of falling. It is the nursing home’s duty to recognize these risk factors and take steps to prevent falls or lessen the risk of falls and fall-related injuries. Nursing homes also have a duty to address any environmental hazards, such as clutter in the hallways, inadequate lighting, slippery floor surfaces, and lack of adequate safety equipment in rooms and bathrooms, in an effort to prevent falls.
When the nursing homes’ staff fails to properly evaluate a resident’s fall risk, fails to maintain the facility and keep the facility safe from environmental hazards, fails to educate and train their staff on how to prevent falls, and/or fails to take measures to lessen the risk of injuries from falls, the nursing homes can and should be held liable for the injuries that result from falls in their facilities.
One isolated fall and injury does not automatically mean that the nursing home is liable if the nursing home recognized that the patient was at risk for falling and took adequate measures to try to prevent falls and lessen the risk of injuries from falls. When such a fall occurs, however, the nursing home also has a duty to properly assess the patient for injuries. If there is any chance that the patient sustained a serious injury, the nursing home should make arrangements to transfer that patient to an emergency medical facility for further evaluation and treatment. We have seen a number of cases where nursing home residents fell and fractured a hip or leg, but were simply placed back in their beds. The injuries were not discovered until many hours or in some cases, days, later by family members or other members of the nursing home staff. In the case of a fall that results in a closed head injury and subdural hematoma (bleeding in the brain), a delay in obtaining prompt, emergency medical treatment can be deadly. So, a nursing home can be liable for failing to properly assess the resident after the fall and failing to get prompt medical treatment for the resident’s fall-related injury.
For more information on what you can do to prevent falls, see the Nursing Home Resource Center and the Fall Prevention page thereunder at Suthers & Harper website, www.sutherslaw.com. If you have a loved one who has fallen in a nursing home and sustained a serious injury, contact Suthers & Harper toll free at 1-800-320-2384 for a free consultation.