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Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

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Approximately 1.6 million older adults live in 18,000 nursing homes in the United States.

Sadly, all too often nursing home residents are injured or even die because the nursing home does not provide the level of care entrusted to them by families and required of them by law. A nursing home abuse lawsuit may be the appropriate remedy if you or a loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Nursing home abuse cases can be complex, involving federal and/or state laws and claims such as elder abuse, negligence, consumer fraud, personal injury and wrongful death. The applicable laws and statutes of limitations (time limit for filing a claim) can vary from state to state. If you suspect nursing home abuse, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney right away to preserve your right to pursue compensation. It is also important that you report nursing home abuse to the proper authorities. (See our article on reporting nursing home abuse for more information.)

Federal and State Laws

Class Action Lawsuits for Nursing Home Abuse

When a group of people have similar types of injuries because of the actions of the same defendant(s), it may be more effective and efficient to join all the parties together in one lawsuit called a class action. If the plaintiff "class" prevails, compensatory damages are usually awarded based on the actual damages suffered by each defendant (rather than divided equally). Punitive damages (to punish the defendant) are more likely in class action lawsuits because the degree of harm is greater. If, for example, a nursing home fraudulently advertises services it is not capable or qualified to provide, all of the residents who suffered harm could file a class action lawsuit on grounds such as false advertising and negligent hiring.

The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987 is a federal law that protects the rights of residents in nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds. Since over 97 percent of nursing homes accept payments from Medicare and/or Medicaid, this law applies to most facilities. The NHRA outlines the minimum standard of care and services necessary to maintain nursing home residents' best physical, mental and psychological well-being and prevent nursing home abuse. Provisions of the act require that these facilities:

  • Have adequate staff
  • Develop comprehensive care plans
  • Assist with daily life activities
  • Take preventative measures to prevent bed sores and other types of infections
  • Provide appropriate skilled nursing and non-skilled nursing services
  • Give medications to patients as needed
  • Ensure patients' privacy
  • Maintain updated records for each patient

Moreover, residents have the "right to be free from physical or mental abuse, corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and any physical or chemical restraints imposed for the purpose of discipline or convenience and not required to treat the resident's medical symptoms." If a resident is harmed because of inadequate care, he or she may be able to sue the facility for failing to meet the standards of the NHRA.

Nursing Home Whistleblowers

The False Claims Act allows a private individual who suspects or has proof that a nursing home is receiving funds (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) without adhering to federal regulations (e.g., Federal Nursing Home Reform Act) to sue the nursing home in a "qui tam" civil lawsuit on behalf of the federal government. If the nursing home is found guilty, then the "whistleblower" can claim as much as 30 percent of the funds returned to the government.

Other federal laws such as the Federal False Claims Act (see sidebar) can provide a basis for a nursing home abuse lawsuit. Additionally, all states have statutes that offer equal if not greater protection of the rights of nursing home residents and permit third parties (e.g., family) to bring lawsuits on behalf of residents for violations of those rights. Depending on the facts of your case, other legal theories of recovery may apply, such as negligence, assault and battery, and breach of contract. Contact a nursing home abuse attorney to learn more.

Common Legal Claims in Nursing Home Lawsuits

A recent study revealed that more than half of nursing home abuse lawsuits involved patient death, followed by pressure sores, dehydration/weight loss and emotional distress. Examples of claims for these and other injuries and medical issues in nursing home abuse lawsuits include:

  • If a staff member restrains a patient for the convenience of the staff, there may be a claim for physical abuse.
  • If a staff member deprives a patient of access to a walker or wheelchair, it may be considered false imprisonment.
  • If a patient is raped in a nursing home facility, there may be grounds for a lawsuit for sexual abuse.
  • If a nursing home failed to conduct an appropriate background check on an employee, there may be grounds for a claim for negligent hiring.
  • If a facility induces residents to live at that facility and fails to deliver on promises to provide services, there may be grounds for consumer fraud resulting in financial abuse.
  • If a patient suffers a slip and fall injury as a result of a hazardous condition the facility knew or should have known about, it may give rise to premises liability.
  • If a resident suffers from malnutrition or dehydration because the nursing home staff did not provide adequate assistance with eating and drinking, there may be a claim for nursing home neglect.

To learn more about types of nursing home abuse lawsuits, read our article devoted to this topic.

Compensation for Nursing Home Abuse

A resident who has been a victim of abuse or neglect may wish to consult an attorney to discuss possible recoupment of damages. Possible awards include compensation for past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost quality of life. If a loved one has died, the survivors may be able to recover compensation for medical and funeral expenses, emotional distress as well as lost love and support the deceased would have provided. In exceptionally egregious cases, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the facility and deter its operators from causing future harm.

Did You Know?

By 2030, an estimated 71.5 million people will be over the age of 65.

Source: Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging


In 2008, the average cost of one year of care in a semi-private room in a nursing home was more than $68,000.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information