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Can a nursing home be held liable for abuse and neglect of its patients?

As the population continues to age, more individuals may be placed into nursing homes, whether for rehabilitation after surgery or for long-term care. While many elder facilities are dedicated to providing a high level of care to their patients and residents, some seniors are victims of abuse, neglect or some other form of mistreatment. Because many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported, it is unclear how extensive this problem is at the nation’s elder care facilities. That being said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 500,000 older adults over the age of 60 are victimized each year.

Types of Elder Abuse and Neglect

Seniors, individuals age 60 and older, are victimized in a number of ways including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services differentiates between elder abuse and neglect. Elder abuse often involves physical abuse or the willful infliction of injury whether by slapping, pushing or hitting. Elder abuse can also involve unreasonable confinement, intimidation or cruel punishment that causes physical harm or mental anguish. In addition to physical abuse, sexual abuse is becoming more of a problem in nursing homes. What constitutes neglect is more difficult to classify but generally occurs when a caregiver, whether an elder facility staffer or even a family member, fails to fulfill the obligations of caring for an elder person by denying shelter, food, clothing, hygiene or medical care.

Elder Facility Liability

If abuse or neglect occurs in a nursing home, the institution can be held liable for causing harm to a patient or resident. Lawsuits often arise when a facility fails to maintain adequate health and safety policies, is negligent when hiring employees who abuse or neglect patients, fails to supervise patients who fall or injure themselves, or fails to provide adequate medical treatment. Ultimately, bringing a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit against a nursing home requires the skills of an experienced personal injury attorney who can demonstrate that the patient suffered an injury because of a mistake that did not meet the acceptable medical standard of care (the type of care that a reasonable skilled medical professional would provide under the same circumstances).