Nursing Home Liability for Elder Abuse

When you decide to place your loved one in a nursing home, you do so because your loved one needs better care than you can provide. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some nursing home residents are subject to neglect or abuse at the hands of their caregivers. When this happens, you may be able to hold the nursing home liable for a caregiver’s actions through the concept of respondeat superior. For help establishing nursing home liability, call Cordisco & Saile LLC: 215-486-8196.

Respondeat Superior: Nursing Home Liability

Respondeat superior is a legal doctrine that states a company is responsible for the acts of its employees as long as the employee commits those acts in the scope of his employment. Under this theory, if your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, the nursing home management could be liable for any abuse or neglect committed in the scope of employment:

For example, if ABC Nursing Home hires Bob to care for residents and Bob causes injury (i.e., can be through either negligence or malicious intent) to one of the residents, ABC Nursing Home’s management is likely liable for the resident’s injury.

Corporate Negligence Liability

Corporate negligence is similar in theory to respondeat superior, but applies more specifically in the hospital/caregiver context. In general, corporate negligence is easier to prove than other negligence actions because the injured patient does not have to establish a third party’s negligence; instead, the hospital is liable for all negligent acts committed by any employee of the hospital.

Corporate negligence dictates that if a hospital fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed to its patients, the hospital is automatically liable. This means that, at a minimum, hospitals must ensure that their patients are safe and properly taken care of while the patient is under the hospital’s care.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the corporate negligence doctrine extends to nursing homes. Therefore, nursing homes are subject to potential direct liability if any employee of the facility delivers treatment to a resident that falls below the applicable standard of care. Under the corporate negligence doctrine, the nursing home is under an obligation to fulfill the following duties:

  1. Maintaining facilities and equipment;
  2. Hiring competent physicians;
  3. Overseeing satisfactory patient care by all employees; and
  4. Creating and enforcing rules and policies to ensure quality care

Breach of Contract Liability

Most (if not all) nursing homes or assisted care facilities have a contract that the resident signs during or before admission. This contract typically includes a clause that agrees to provide a safe environment and reasonable care for the resident. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that breach of contract is a valid cause of action against a nursing home or assisted care facility.

Therefore, if the conduct of someone employed by the nursing home does not adhere to the contracted care described in the admissions contract, the resident can bring a breach of contract action against the home.

For example, if ABC Nursing Home guarantees an attendant will walk Millie, a resident with limited mobility, to the common area each morning, but instead strands Millie in her room day after day, Millie may have a viable breach of contract action.

Negligent Hiring Liability

Nursing homes can also be liable for negligent hiring. If the employer knew, or should have known, that an employee had a propensity for violence, the employer may be liable for hiring him anyway. The nursing home has a duty to ensure that their residents are in good hands and should do a thorough background check before hiring support staff, especially those who will be in direct contact with the residents on a daily basis.

For example, if ABC Nursing Home hired Bob, who has a battery conviction on his record, the nursing home could be liable for negligent hiring if Bob hurts a resident.

Understaffing Liability

Understaffing occurs when the number of residents far outweighs the number of employees. This is extremely dangerous in a nursing home setting because if residents cannot receive proper care or quick responses in an emergency situation, these residents may suffer injury or even death before an employee responds.

The nursing home can be liable if the nursing home management had actual or constructive knowledge of understaffing and residents suffered harm as a result.

Let us consider our resident Millie: Millie needs to use the restroom so she presses her bedside button for help getting from her bed to the restroom. Millie waits, but no one responds because all attendants are busy helping other residents. Millie decides to get up anyway, falls and breaks her hip.

Because understaffing prevented attendants from giving Millie the help she needed, ABC Nursing Home could be liable for Millie’s injuries.

Lack of Onsite Physician Liability

Nursing homes are under an obligation to provide quality medical care for residents. An important component of this obligation includes making sure that there are quality onsite doctors available to the residents in the event of a medical emergency. When an issue of liability arises, this becomes a question of whether the nursing home exercised reasonable care, and is a question of fact for the jury.

If a nursing home does not hire an onsite physician and instead transports all its residents to a nearby hospital, the facility could be liable if it could have prevented a death or more serious injury by use of an onsite physician.

If your loved one has been the victim of nursing home neglect or abuse, contact the elder abuse attorneys at Cordisco & Saile LLC today at 215-486-8196 for legal representation.