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Nursing Home Abuse

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An estimated 71.5 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by the year 2030. Many of these people will likely require long-term care services at some point in their lives. Nursing homes provide personal care, room and board, supervision, medication, therapies and rehabilitation, and skilled nursing care 24 hours a day. Residents and families trust that the level of care will maintain their optimal physical, mental and social well-being. But sadly, some nursing home residents become victims of nursing home abuse and neglect and suffer pain, emotional distress, lost quality of life and premature death.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Trends in Nursing Home Litigation

According to a recently published study on nursing home litigation:

  • The average award was approximately $406,000 per claim, nearly twice the level of the average medical malpractice award and significantly higher than other personal injury awards.
  • More than 50 percent of nursing home abuse cases involved death, followed by pressure sores, dehydration/malnutrition and emotional distress.
  • More than 60 percent of the claims were championed by children of residents.
  • The nursing home itself was named a defendant in almost every claim, with other professional staff also frequently named.

If you or a family member has been a victim of nursing home abuse, an attorney experienced in nursing home abuse litigation can best advise you of your legal rights.

Source: Stevenson, David G. and David M. Studdert: "The Rise of Nursing Home Litigation: Findings from a National Survey of Attorneys," Health Affairs, 22, no. 2 (2003): 219-229.

Physical, mental and financial abuse and neglect are the types of nursing home abuse most frequently reported.

Sometimes victims report the abuse to family members or friends, or the abuse carries telltale physical signs like cuts and bruises. Other times victims may be too sick or scared to report the abuse, and/or the signs may not be as apparent. There are many things you can do to help prevent nursing home abuse, but if you or a loved one is a victim, you also may be able to recover compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

  • Physical abuse is the excessive use of force or restraint beyond the scope of medically prescribed treatment. Examples include over-sedation, beating and inappropriate sexual contact.
  • Mental abuse includes harassing, threatening, humiliating or otherwise inflicting emotional distress on an elder, e.g., the unwarranted restriction of activities.
  • Financial abuse is the theft or misuse of a resident's property, such as cashing checks without their permission or tricking them to change a will or other financial instrument.
  • Nursing home neglect is defined as the failure to care for a person in a manner that would avoid harm and pain, or the failure to react to a situation which may be harmful. Examples include failing to assist with daily activities of living such as feeding and hydration, bathing and toileting.

Medical Issues Associated With Nursing Home Abuse

Resident's Bill of Rights

All residents living in a facility that accepts Medicare and/or Medicaid payments are protected by the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA). The NHRA sets forth the Resident's Bill of Rights, which entitles all residents to:

  • The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect
  • The right to freedom from physical restraints
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs
  • The right to participate in resident and family groups
  • The right to be treated with dignity
  • The right to exercise self-determination
  • The right to communicate freely
  • The right to participate in the review of one's care plan
  • The right to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or change of status in the facility
  • The right to voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal

At least twice as many adults in nursing homes fall as compared to older adults living in the community. Falls are linked to an increased risk of hip fractures, head injuries and other serious and potentially fatal consequences. Dehydration and malnutrition, pressure sores, bed injuries (e.g., strangulation from bedrails) and medication injuries (e.g., from administration of medication to the wrong patient) are other serious medical issues associated with nursing home abuse and neglect.

Preventing Nursing Home Abuse

Fortunately, there are several ways residents and family members can help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of nursing home abuse, including:

  • Choosing a well-staffed and well-maintained facility based on reputation, public resources (e.g., ombudsman, state surveys) and personal observation.
  • Staying involved and informed, developing good relationships with the nursing home staff, attending care planning conferences, starting a family council, etc.
  • Staggering family member visits, which not only keeps your loved one from getting lonely, but also allows you to observe their care at different times and lets staff members know the resident is well-monitored and not a good target for abuse.
  • Learning the warning signs of neglect and abuse and remaining vigilant.

To learn more on this subject, read our article on preventing nursing home abuse.

Reporting Nursing Home Abuse

If you do suspect a resident is being abused or neglected, you should report the abuse right away to prevent further harm. Typically, nursing home abuse reports are made to the nursing home administration, ombudsman, state agencies, local authorities, and advocacy groups. Additionally, you may wish to contact a lawyer for assistance and to make sure you preserve your legal rights. Thorough investigation and documentation will not only help the authorities resolve the case, but can also help strengthen a potential legal claim.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

Nursing home residents may be able to recover compensation for nursing home abuse injuries pursuant to a variety of legal theories, including consumer fraud, negligence, personal injury, elder abuse and wrongful death. Additionally, a number of federal and state statutes have been enacted to protect residents' rights. The laws and the applicable procedural rules like statutes of limitations (time limit in which you must file a claim) vary depending on where the nursing home abuse lawsuit is filed.

Did You Know?

The population of "oldest" Americans (age 85 and older) grew from 100,000 to 4.2 million in the 20th century.

Source: Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics


An estimated 1 to 2 million "older" Americans (65 or older) have been injured, exploited or otherwise mistreated by someone they depended on for care and protection.

Source: National Center on Elder Abuse