Briefly, falls cause most nursing home stays. And, falls extend most nursing home stays. Fall injuries are the leading cause of nursing home admissions. Additionally, roughly two-thirds of residents slip and fall at least once during their stays. Most of these victims are unable to live independently thereafter.
When older people fall, they usually sustain physical and emotional injuries. Since many of these victims have pre-existing conditions, falls normally cause head injuries, serious broken bones, and other physical wounds that are difficult to cure. Afterwards, many victims are so afraid of a repeat fall that they become prisoners in their own rooms.
Due to the severe nature of these injuries, a Lexington personal injury lawyer can usually obtain substantial compensation for victims and their families. This compensation typically includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
What Causes Nursing Home Falls?
Chronic nursing home understaffing and the vulnerable nature of these victims cause most nursing home falls in Kentucky.
As many as 90 percent of long-term care facilities are dangerously understaffed. This problem is especially severe during low-census periods, such as nights and weekends. As a result, many nursing homes do not adequately monitor patients. Instead, they allow them to wander the halls unsupervised. Additionally, there is often no one to keep residents away from construction zones and other dangerous areas.
Furthermore, many older people suffer from Age-related Macular Degeneration. Tiny fat deposits around the eye muscles impair straight-ahead vision. So, many of these victims do not see hazards which are open and obvious to other people. More on this below.
Additionally, gait disorders affect many older people. As a result, when these people stumble, they almost always fall.
Generally, out-of-state conglomerates own the nursing homes in the Lexington area. That’s just one reason these claims are often complex. Perhaps more importantly, these owners are not automatically liable for slip-and-fall injuries.
First, an attorney must show that a legal duty existed. To determine legal responsibility, Kentucky law divides victims into three different categories:
- Invitee: Nursing home residents are invitees, because owners benefit economically from their presence. Because the relationship is so close, the legal responsibility is quite high. Typically, landowners have a duty of reasonable care in these situations.
- Licensee: Nursing home visitors are usually licensees. Although these people have permission to be on the land, their presence does not benefit owners, at least not directly. If the fall victim was a licensee, the owner usually had a duty to warn about latent (hidden) defects, such as loose handrails.
- Trespasser: If the victim had no permission to be on the land and there was no benefit, a victim is a trespasser, at least in this context. Generally, owners owe no duty to trespassers. Tales of injured burglars who successfully sued homeowners are largely urban myths.
Theoretical responsibility, by itself, is not enough. Additionally, a victim/plaintiff must prove the owner knew about the fall injury hazard, such as a wet spot or an uneven surface. Evidence of knowledge can be:
- Direct, such as a restroom maintenance report, or
- Circumstantial, such as a hazard which the landowner failed to address for quite some time.
Victim/plaintiffs must establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in Kentucky law.
Some Insurance Company Defenses
Since so much is at stake, insurance company lawyers always try to reduce or deny compensation due to victims.
Warning signs, such as “Caution: Wet Floor” make it easier to establish the assumption of the risk defense. This legal doctrine excuses liability if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
The aforementioned victim vulnerabilities often affect this defense. AMD impairs the ability to see and read such signs. If the victim could not see the sign, or understand what it meant, the risk is not a known one. Moreover, if the victim slips, the victim often falls.
Before 2010, the open-and-obvious defense often defeated fall injury claims before they even got started. That year, the Kentucky Supreme Court sharply limited this defense, in Kentucky River Medical Center v. McIntosh. The Supremes have reaffirmed McIntosh several times in recent years.
This vaunted defense is even harder to prove in nursing home fall claims. As mentioned, many older victims cannot adequately see hazards. Therefore, what is open and obvious to some people is often a hidden danger to older victims.
Nursing home fall victims are usually entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact Goode Law Office, PLLC. After-hours and home visits are available.