When you place an elderly loved one in a nursing home, you trust that the caregivers will treat them with the highest level of respect and care. If the facility and its staff break that trust, and you find that your loved one has fallen victim to nursing home abuse, then the first order of business after getting them to a safer environment is reporting the injuries to the authorities and filing a lawsuit. Before taking action, however, you should know the different types of abuse your elder loved one could experience and how to go through the legal process after this incident occurs.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Physical abuse is any physical force used with the intention to harm the person inflicted. Common forms include hitting, beating, and pushing, but with the elderly, it can also include force-feeding, excessive and inappropriate use of physical restraints or drugs, and holding someone against their will. Since residents of nursing homes are often frail, even minor acts of bodily harm could be considered physical abuse, like gripping their arm tightly and causing bruising in an attempt to harm or control them.
Emotional or psychological abuse is the act of causing emotional pain or distress to a person through means like verbal assaults, intimidation, humiliation, threats, and other harassment. Treating the elderly like children is a form of degradation that comes with this type of nursing home abuse, and isolation or the silent treatment are types of non-verbal abuse that falls under this category.
Any non-consensual sexual contact with a resident of a nursing home falls under the category of sexual abuse. The elderly victim is often incapable to give consent or too confused to understand what is going on. This type of nursing home abuse can range from unwanted touching, explicit photography, and forced nudity, to all kinds of sexual assault and battery.
Neglect is particularly prominent in a nursing home environment, as it refers to a caregiver failing to give adequate care to the senior—like not providing food, water, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, and other acts of daily living (ADLs). This abuse can be either active or passive, meaning the person can actively withhold care or become unable to provide care due to stress or lack of resources. Neglect can often contribute to emotional abuse, as it adversely affects the victim’s quality of life and emotional well-being.
Building A Case
When elder abuse occurs at a nursing home, it is essential first to report it to your local Adult Protective Services so they can intervene to assure it does not continue. They can bring criminal legal action that will hold the abusers themselves, their supervisors, and the company that owns the home accountable. For personal damages, you can turn to an elder law attorney to file a civil lawsuit.
The victim’s mental capacity can become a complicating factor in filing a suit. If they have a power of attorney in place—a document authorizing a loved one to make legal decisions on one’s behalf—you can file the case in the victim’s name as the designated POA. If this authorization isn’t in place, the victim must submit the case themselves, or you can file a court order naming you as a guardian for your abused loved one.
An elder law attorney can then navigate the nursing home abuse case by conducting background checks into the home, gathering witness accounts and medical records to create evidentiary support, and pinpointing the exact legal claim that best fits your case. They will aim to do this research as close to the time of abuse as possible to assure that you can file your case within the statute of limitations for your state.
Filing in Court
The biggest concern at this point is your contract with the nursing home. The agreement could include an arbitration clause in the fine print—a stipulation that you can sidestep if it wasn’t obvious when the contract was signed. If it does exist, though, your attorney will need to litigate this issue before getting to the actual case at hand.
Once you clear that point of contention, you will file the complaint of nursing home abuse in a court within the jurisdiction of the county where the injuries took place. You will have 30 to 60 days to serve the papers to the defendant, or the case could get dismissed. From there, the case will go into negotiations or go to court, where you will receive a verdict.
An elder law case is tough to navigate without an experienced attorney to help. In Carlsbad, NM, victims of nursing home abuse turn to Balderrama Law Firm LLC to seek justice for their case. The Trial Lawyers Association has named Attorney Frank Balderrama one of the Top 40 Lawyers Under 40 since 2012, showing the excellence that this litigator has on both the state and federal level with personal injury cases. For more information about this firm’s full range of legal services, call (575) 234-1111 or visit their website for a free case evaluation.