What is a Nursing Home’s Liability if a Patient Falls While They are Admitted to the Facility?
Just like any other property owner, nursing homes are liable for a resident’s slip and fall on the property under the area of law called premises liability. However, a nursing home may also be liable under a medical negligence legal theory for residents who fall and are seriously injured. As practicing Tennessee nursing home attorneys, we have seen many nursing home falls occur, not because of a wet floor or slippery stairwell, but because of a nursing home’s failure to adequately guard and protect their residents who have increased risks for falling.
Are nursing homes liable for falls?
In many cases, the answer is yes. This is because many residents are admitted for health conditions that may increase the likelihood of falling, such as dizziness, vertigo, leg and hip injuries, fatigue, or other related conditions that may cause health complications. Remember, a nursing home is a skilled medical facility that provides around-the-clock care for its residents. This is opposed to an assisted living facility, where there is no medical treatment other than possible medication supplementing. Thus, a nursing home can be liable for mistakes in providing medical care, accidents on its premises, and nursing home abuse incidents.
When a resident falls in a nursing home, there are many factors and conditions that need to be studied and analyzed by your experienced Tennessee nursing home attorney. For instance:
- What protocols did the facility have in place to guard against falls?
- What were the staffing requirements at the facility to monitor at-risk patients?
- Does the medical chart of the resident who fell have a special notation in his or her chart to watch for falling?
What injuries do seniors suffer when they fall at a nursing home?
The residents who do fall are likely to suffer very serious injuries because they can’t keep their balance like younger people, and their old age makes their bones more brittle and their ability to recover more difficult. Common fall injuries include broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord damage, nerve damage, and muscle and soft tissue injuries. Tragically, some falls may cause the nursing home resident to die.
When is medical malpractice the cause of a nursing home fall?
A Memphis nursing home neglect attorney may find many causes for your or your loved one’s fall. Some of these causes include the following:
- Failure to monitor patients
- Failure to use patient protective devices
- Failure to properly assess a patient’s risk of falling
- Bed rail malfunction
- Failure to supervise at-risk patients walking around the facility
- Improper training of staff
- Medication errors or administrations that cause patients to fall
- Wet or otherwise hazardous floors
- Improper positioning of the resident on a table, chair, or floor
- Damaged or defective walking aids such as walkers, canes, or other devices
- Improper transfer methods by staff
What nursing home falls protocols should nursing homes implement to avoid falls?
As noted earlier, when a new resident comes to a nursing home, an assessment to determine the extent of the risk of the new resident falling should always be completed. If the patient has a high risk of falling, the staff should utilize protocols to guard against the possibility of falls. Many facilities will have implemented certain programs or protocols such as the following:
- Bathroom checks. High-risk patients are checked more frequently if they are in need to use the bathroom to prevent them from attempting to wander out on their own.
- Bed positioning and height adjustments. High-risk patients are kept in lower beds which helps to decrease the likelihood of serious injury should a patient fall from the bed.
- Bed rails. Use of rails to make it more difficult if not impossible to get out of bed without the assistance of another person de-latching the rail from the other side.
- Bed alarms. As the name implies, alarms should alert someone if a resident attempts to get out of bedor remove a bed rail.
- Increasing staffing needs. Having an adequate number of staff members is required when there are more patients who need increased supervision and help.
Failure to take into account the risk a resident has of falling could also violate state regulations and laws.
What to do when a resident falls in a nursing home
The more information the fall victim, family members, and investigators can acquire about the incident; the stronger the victim’s claim will be. Some of this evidence includes:
- Photographs or videos of the place where the fall happened such as obstacles, slippery surfaces, a lack of railings, broken tiles, and other evidence. Many people can use their smartphones to take photographs.
- Photographs of the victim’s injuries.
- Victims should seek immediate medical attention to diagnose their injuries and help start the recovery process.
- Records of any prior complaints to the nursing home about the fall location or similar falls.
- The nursing home’s safety protocols should be in writing.
- Records of whether any medications were provided near the time of the fall.
- Obtaining the names of all witnesses including nursing home staff and residents.
Unwitnessed falls in nursing homes
There is no requirement that anyone in the nursing home witness the fall. However, fall victims or their friends and family should notify the management of the nursing home as quickly as possible to verify the fall so that steps can be taken to prevent other residents from failing.
Are nursing homes required to report falls?
According to CGAA, an insurance carrier, the duty to report falls varies from state to state, the type of home (public or private), and whether the home receives Medicaid or Medicaid (most nursing homes do). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires that nursing homes immediately report any unexpected deaths (falls can be fatal) to CMS regional office Quality Improvement Organization (QIO), State Survey Agency (SSA), and State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program Office(s). If a fall causes a significant injury, there are specific time frames for reporting the falls “15 days after notification of ombudsman office(s) when associated with death; 90 days otherwise.”
CGGA also states that CMS requires all long-term care facilities to have an individualized plan for fall prevention for each resident. Generally, falls should be made part of the resident’s medical record within 24 hours, including noting how the fall happened and what injuries were incurred.
If there is reasonable suspicion that a fall has caused serious injury or death then an immediate investigation should be launched by appointed personnel from both within and outside of the facility in order to evaluate whether this was due to malpractice or negligence on part of its intervention team. In many cases, emergency services must also be contacted as per choice regulation.
The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability has recommendations about fall prevention strategies.
Here at Bailey & Greer, PLLC our nursing home fall attorneys understand how to persuasively pursue your claims. Our legal team has a proven track record of compassionately representing clients injured in Memphis, Jackson, and Little Rock personal injury cases including nursing home accidents. Please review our testimonials page and our successful case results page to learn more about why former clients recommend us and why insurance companies and defense lawyers respect us.
Call our Memphis nursing home abuse lawyers or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We’ll fight to obtain all the financial and personal damage compensation you deserve.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
Read more about Thomas R. Greer
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