Falls & Fractures in Nursing Homes – How They Happen and Who is Responsible
If you’ve ever had a call from a nursing home to inform you that a parent or other elderly loved one has suffered a fall and sustained a bone fracture, your first thoughts were probably for their wellbeing.
However, once they have received the emergency medical attention required, you might be left wondering how the fall happened, whether it could have been avoided, and who was the at-fault party.
After all, falls can have serious consequences for elderly patients and the majority of falls and fractures in nursing homes are preventable.
If you find that the fall was due to the negligence of the staff, you may be able to hold the nursing home liable for damages.
Common causes of falls in a nursing home
Falls in nursing homes are commonly the result of:
- Failure to accurately assess a patient’s fall risk
- Inadequate numbers of staff in the facility
- Lack of staff training
- Failure of staff to monitor and supervise patients closely enough
- Failure to accompany patients when they walk
- Failure to understand the needs of patients (e.g. bathroom or mobility issues)
- Failure to provide protective devices or to ensure that patients are using them
- Defective wheelchairs and walking aids, e.g. walkers, canes, etc.
- Failure to use restraints where necessary
- Malfunctioning bed rails
- Poor lighting
- Incorrect administration of medicine causing poor balance, dizziness, etc.
- Wet or slippery floors
- Improper foot care or poorly fitting shoes
- Improper positioning at a table or in a chair
All of the above causes of falls and potential fractures are avoidable.
Who is responsible?
In any nursing home, a minimum standard of care applies as it is an approved medical facility – not just a residential home.
As such, you are entitled to expect that the nursing home takes all reasonable measures to prevent injury and sickness for a loved one who is resident there.
Elderly individuals are frequently at risk of falling due to an increased susceptibility to dizziness, vertigo, leg and hip injuries, fatigue, and other health complications.
Extra precautions should be in place to prevent falls from happening and new patients should be assessed carefully to provide an indication of fall risk to caregivers in the facility.
The following should be part of the protocol in place for residents at a high risk of falls:
- Lower bed height to minimize the risk of falls when getting into or out of bed
- Ensuring that chairs are of the correct height and the use of chair arms and locks
- Regular bathroom checks to ensure that the resident does not try to get to the bathroom alone
- The use of bed rails on all beds so that assistance is required in order to get out of bed
- The use of bed alarms to call for assistance
- Extra staff to ensure that patients are checked more frequently and supervised more thoroughly
Failure to take these measures can contravene state or federal laws and result in medical negligence.
In such cases, the nursing home claiming that they were understaffed or unable to provide adequate training for their staff does not absolve them of blame.
You are entitled to ask:
- Was your loved one adequately assessed for fall risk?
- What protocols did the facility have in place to prevent falls?
- Were these protocols followed?
- If not, why not?
- Was there adequate supervision of your loved one on the day of the accident?
- Is there CCTV footage available of the incident?
- Were the appropriate measures taken to care for your loved one after the fall?
- Has the nursing home taken measures to prevent future falls?
How to file a claim?
According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center between 50 and 75 percent of nursing-facility residents fall each year.
If your loved one falls when resident in a nursing home, the knock-on effects can be serious.
Apart from the initial medical bills, a bone fracture for an elderly person is more serious than for a younger person.
Often, fractures lead to complications for the elderly, severely restricting mobility and requiring around-the-clock assistance.
This can be a huge burden on loved ones as well as emotionally damaging for your loved one.
Before you make a claim, the precise circumstances of the incident should be examined by an experienced nursing home lawyer specializing in medical negligence or malpractice.
They will review the resident’s daily charts to determine how well your loved one was supervised and check whether correct protocols were followed before and after the fall.
Then, if you decide to proceed with legal action, your lawyer looks after the process of filing a claim.
Most attorneys will only claim a fee if you win compensation. This is the case at Sinel & Olsen, PLLC.
The nursing home will either settle out of court (most likely) or dispute the claim and it will go to trial, with a judge deciding on who was at fault and how much compensation is due.
Do you need to file a lawsuit?
A consultation with a nursing home attorney should help determine whether legal action is the right course to take.
If you decide to proceed, it can be very challenging to negotiate with the insurance company representing the nursing home. They might try to low-ball you in a settlement. It is important, therefore, to seek the guidance of experienced legal counsel.
Only then can you hope to receive adequate compensation not only for medical bills incurred but for the physical and emotional pain and suffering caused by the injury.