How To Pursue a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuit

August 29, 2023

Facing the death of a family member due to nursing home negligence is especially difficult for those left behind. You may have unanswered questions regarding your loved one's care leading up to their passing. 

The majority of wrongful deaths in nursing homes can be avoided when proper care is provided. One study from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 60 percent of adverse events in nursing homes are preventable.

If you're considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home, read on to learn more.

Major Causes of Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes

Abuse, neglect, falls, and medication and medical errors routinely contribute to premature death in nursing home patients each year. Here are some of the most common causes of nursing home neglect resulting in death, and signs you may need a nursing home abuse lawyer.

Different Forms of Abuse

When abuse is the root cause in nursing home wrongful death cases, intentional harm led to a resident's untimely demise. Surviving family members are eligible to file a wrongful death claim or survival action against the facility. Nursing home settlements involving intentional harm may include punitive damages as well.

  • Physical abuse: Signs include cuts, bruises, burns, dislocated joints, and unexplained head injuries.
  • Emotional abuse: This is the most common form of abuse perpetrated on elderly residents, involving yelling, threats, and belittlement meant to make the patient fearful.
  • Neglect: Signs of neglect include rapid weight loss, soiled clothing, going without necessary medication or medical aids, poor hygiene, an unsafe or unsanitary living environment, and infections and injuries that go untreated.
  • Sexual abuse: Pelvic pain or injuries, newly diagnosed sexually transmitted diseases or infections, and bruises on the genitals or inner thighs could signal sexual abuse.
  • Financial abuse: This occurs when a caretaker steals money or possessions from an elderly individual. Signs include unpaid bills, eviction notices, missing possessions the patient doesn't remember giving away, and charges and withdrawals on accounts the patient could not have made.

Broken Bones

Broken bones are common injuries in residential care facilities due to increased fall risk in the elderly. However, a pattern of broken bones could signal that nursing home staff did not take the necessary precautions to prevent your family member from falling. A history of fractures may also suggest that they were being abused. Many nursing home malpractice cases stem from broken bones that lead to medical complications and death.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are another typical cause for nursing home lawsuits. If your loved one died after suffering an adverse reaction to a medication they shouldn't have received or following the improper administration of medication prescribed to them, you may be eligible to receive monetary compensation. The burden of proof is on the individual bringing the suit to show that the medication was delivered in error and caused the person irreparable harm.

Dehydration and Malnutrition

Intentionally or unintentionally withholding fluids and food from a nursing home resident can quickly lead to dehydration and malnutrition, both forms of elder neglect. If you believe that your family member's death in a nursing home is linked to the facility's failure to adequately provide for their dietary needs, you may consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home.  

Medical Errors and Inadequate Care

Nursing home facilities are notoriously understaffed with high turnover rates. Staff shortages and inexperienced caretakers create an environment ripe for abuse and neglect. Preventable medical errors may also occur when the staff-to-patient ratio is too high. These inadequate standards for resident care are completely avoidable under better conditions. Signs that your family member's death may have been caused by a medical error or inadequate care include: 

  • Immobile residents left in their rooms for hours at a time
  • Failure to notify a trained medical professional of a potential health emergency
  • Failure to regularly bathe a resident and change their clothing and bedding
  • Failure to adequately provide food or water
  • Failure to treat injuries and illnesses, which resulted in bedsores, sepsis, and death

Lack of Fall Prevention

Elderly residents are susceptible to slips and falls while attempting to stand, get out of bed, or use the restroom on their own. Residential nursing facilities are required to have preventative measures in place to avoid patient injury. Nursing home negligence cases may focus on a facility's failure to:

  • Answer a resident's call light for long periods of time, resulting in unnecessary falls
  • Assist the resident while they stood, transferred surfaces, or used the restroom
  • Use a gait belt or other assistive device
  • Replace the bed guardrail on a resident's bed
  • Remove hazards such as cords or standing water on the floor

Essential Evidence for a Solid Nursing Home Death Claim

When suing a nursing home for wrongful death, the plaintiff carries the burden of proof to present evidence that supports the claim. Nursing homes have an inherent obligation to provide for their residents' care and safety. 

Any evidence you present to the court will need to demonstrate that the liable parties either negligently or intentionally did not provide for the resident's well-being and that the facility's failure to do so led to the person's death. Here are some examples of evidence you may be asked to provide:

  • Medical records
  • Photos of the deceased's injuries
  • Photos or videos of the conditions inside the nursing home
  • Videos of abuse
  • Articles of the deceased's clothing
  • Witness statements 
  • Documentation of communication with the nursing home
  • A timeline of dates and events leading to the resident's death

Average Nursing Home Wrongful Death Settlement Amount

The average financial compensation awarded to family members of the deceased person in nursing home lawsuit settlements in the United States is between $400,000 and $600,000, although damages may be much higher.

The largest nursing home settlement to date is $13 million, awarded to the survivors of a retired judge. The patient's nursing home failed to provide him life-saving antibiotics for an infection that caused a fatal injury.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit is a matter of law. Those individuals eligible to file a wrongful death claim or survival action are the same ones who can receive compensation. This typically means surviving spouses, children, and parents of the deceased.

Pursue Legal Action for Wrongful Death With Our Expert Team of Lawyers

If you're considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home on behalf of a deceased family member who suffered abuse or neglect, the attorneys at McEldrew Purtell can help. Our Philadelphia-based trial lawyers have recovered billions of dollars for injury victims and their families. We handle most litigation on a contingency fee basis, which means that we don’t get paid if we don’t win your case. Contact us today.