Quite often, a serious fall triggers a nursing home stay. Residents believe, or at least hope, that they will recover and return home. All too often, however, falls also prolong nursing home stays. Up to 75 percent of nursing home residents fall each year. Because of their injuries, most of these victims cannot live independently again.
The physical wounds, like broken bones, are only the most obvious injuries. Since many of these victims have pre-existing conditions, it is not easy to fully recover from such wounds. The emotional fallout of a fall might be even worse. Many elderly people are so afraid of falling again that they become almost completely sedentary.
A Lexington personal injury attorney cannot turn back the clock and prevent the fall. But an attorney can obtain the compensation these families need to put the past behind them and move forward. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
What Causes Nursing Home Falls?
As mentioned, many nursing home residents have pre-existing conditions which worsen their injuries. On a similar note, many of these people have pre-existing conditions which increase the risk of a fall.
Gait pattern is a good example. Younger people usually take long, steady strides when they walk. As we get older, this pattern often changes. Many older adults reduce their speed and step length. These individuals also take irregular steps.
These changes, which are typically subconscious, usually increase pelvis stability. Unfortunately, the altered gait also increases the risk of a fall. When older people stumble, they are often unable to recover their balance, especially if the surface is not completely flat. This change often affects the open-and-obvious defense. More on that below.
Gait disorders are often related to Age-related Macular Degeneration. AMD blurs the straight-ahead vision which people rely on for balance. If this feature is impaired, people step more cautiously.
AMD also prevents people from seeing warning signs, such as “Caution: Wet Floor.” So, they are unable to avoid such hazards. More on that below as well.
First Party Liability
Under Kentucky law, property owners, including nursing home owners, are responsible for fall injuries if they owed a legal duty and they knew about the hazard which caused the fall.
To determine legal responsibility, Kentucky law uses a classification system based on common law. Fall injury victims are either:
- Licensees, or
Nursing home residents are clearly invitees. These people provide an economic or noneconomic benefit to the landowner and they have permission to be on the land. Since the relationship is so close, owners have a duty of care to make their premises reasonably safe for invitees. That’s one of the highest duties in Kentucky law.
Nursing home visitors are usually licensees. These individuals have permission to be on the property, but their presence does not benefit the owner. So, in these situations, the owner must only warn about latent (hidden) defects, like a loose stairway rail.
Nursing home trespassers are very rare. SInce there is no permission to be on the property and no benefit to the owner, there is also no duty.
Furthermore, victim/plaintiffs must prove the owner knew about the fall hazard. That knowledge could be:
- Direct: Direct evidence of actual knowledge often includes unpaid repair invoices and other bits of physical evidence which frequently surface during discovery.
- Circumstantial: Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) usually involves the time-notice rule.
To better understand the time-notice rule, think of a banana peel on the floor. If the victim slipped on a yellow peel, it probably just dropped, so there is no constructive knowledge. If the peel was black, it had probably been on the floor for awhile, and an employee should have cleaned it up.
The open and obvious doctrine and assumption of the risk are two of the most common insurance company defenses in fall injury claims.
Legally, landowners are not liable for injuries if the victim fell because of an open and obvious hazard, like a sinkhole in a parking lot. However, as mentioned, older adults are not always able to avoid such hazards.
The assumption of the risk defense applies if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk. Most people voluntarily walk down hallways. But as mentioned, many older people have trouble seeing warning signs. If that was the case, then the risk was not a known hazard.
Fall injury victims might be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.