Fighting nursing home abuse: Understanding negligence as abuse

Americans are living longer than ever before. In 2009, there were 39.6 million Americans age 65 years or older. By 2030, that number is expected to grow to more than 72 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging. Increased longevity does come with some drawbacks though. One issue is that many people who live longer are experiencing an increase in the number of years with a chronic disability. A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle found that while life expectancy reached 78.2 years in 2010, the number of years that people are in good health or without short- or long-term disabilities is 68.1 years.

Many children of aging Americans will have to determine at some point whether their parents can continue to care for themselves and reside at home, if they need the kind of help that an assisted-living facility can offer or whether, due to dementia, Alzheimer's or another condition, nursing home care is required. This can be a difficult decision to make, and reports of nursing home abuse only make the process more difficult. However, laws are in place to protect the elderly, and in the event abuse occurs, a lawsuit may be brought against the nursing home seeking damages for negligence.

Negligence as abuse

While many New Mexico residents in nursing homes receive good care and lead comfortable lives, there are others who may suffer one of the several types of abuse that can occur in these facilities. One of the most common types of abuse stems from negligence. Negligence is the failure to act with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under similar circumstances. In some nursing homes, negligence may arise due to understaffing or poorly trained staff.

When a nursing home has inadequate staff to care for the number of residents who live there, the likelihood that an accident will occur increases. A resident who needs assistance to use the toilet and is unable to summon a staff member after ringing the call button numerous times over a period of time may attempt to go by himself or herself. This can lead to falls and even broken bones.

Another situation which can arise if there is insufficient staff is that a resident may wander away. Many nursing homes have alarms on exit doors, but if there are no alarms or if they are ignored, a resident can leave and be subjected to inclement weather, traffic and other dangerous situations.

The owners of a nursing home are under a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries to the residents. If they do not comply with this duty and an injury results, a resident may bring suit to recover damages for his or her injuries. If you are related to an individual who has been injured in a nursing home and have questions about whether your relative may have a claim for negligence, contact an attorney to discuss the circumstances which led to the injury. An attorney can inform you of your relative's rights under the law.