Elements of a Nursing Home Negligence Claim

by | Apr 19, 2022 | Nursing Home Abuse And Neglect

The idea of compensation for negligent (intentional yet non-malicious) injuries comes from a long line of cases, such as 1837’s Vaughan v. Menlove. Back in those days, houses had thatched roofs. The hay could spontaneously combust, and if that happened, the fire would quickly spread. The defendant didn’t take sufficient precautions to prevent such a potential disaster. For over a month, people warned him about the danger. But he said “he would chance it.” It’s not hard to predict how this story ends. The roof caught fire, and the blaze spread to his neighbor’s cottage, “which was entirely destroyed.”

The court concluded that the defendant had a duty to keep his house reasonably safe so it wouldn’t injure someone else. The fact that the defendant had ignored warnings, and thus he clearly knew about the danger, prompted the court to rule in the plaintiff’s favor. These same principles apply in nursing home negligence claims.

Examples of nursing home negligence include falls, bedsores, and resident-on-resident assaults. Generally, nursing homes have a legal responsibility to prevent these negligent injuries. In these situations, a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain substantial compensation for victims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Duty

The duty of care, or legal responsibility, in Vaughan was largely based on the defendant’s knowledge of the hazard and response to that hazard. This principle is basically the same in a nursing home negligence claim.

Knowledge of a nursing home negligence hazard can be direct or circumstantial. A prior fall, bedsore, or other injury is usually direct evidence of actual knowledge. Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) could include knowledge of a dangerous environment, like understaffing issues or reports of conflicts between residents.

As negligence law evolved, the necessary response to a hazard came to depend on the relationship between the victim and owner.

Most victims are invitees. If the victim had specific or general permission to be on the land, and the owner benefited from the relationship in any way, the owner had a duty of care. The Vaughan court said such a relationship creates “a regard to caution such as a man of ordinary prudence would observe.”

Nursing home negligence victims are clearly invitees. They have the owner’s permission and they pay rent. A lower standard of care applies in some cases, if the relationship was more distant.

Breach

Legal duty is usually the most important issue in a nursing home negligence claim. The other elements, including a breach of duty, usually fall into place.

Breach of duty, or violation of duty, goes back to the same “man of ordinary prudence” standard. Legally, nursing home owners breach their duty of care if a “prudent” person:

  • Had the same actual or constructive knowledge as the defendant,
  • Would have known a certain action or inaction could have hurt someone else, and
  • Would have reacted differently.

For example, if there’s a wet spot on a nursing home floor, a prudent person would clean it up. The likelihood of a serious fall is simply too high.

Cause

Much like duty, cause has two parts. A Lexington personal injury attorney must establish factual cause and legal cause.

Cause-in-fact is basically a connection between the breach, which was discussed above, and the damages, which is discussed below. The victim/plaintiff must prove that owner negligence, as opposed to the victim’s own conduct, caused injury. Let’s return to the fall example. If the victim didn’t watch where s/he was going, slipped, and fell, that’s not the owner’s fault.

Legal causation is foreseeability (possibility) of injury. Nursing home owners are only responsible for foreseeable injuries. Assume a victim falls, goes to the hospital, and a doctor makes a medical mistake. The medical negligence injury satisfies the cause-in-fact requirement. The victim only went to the hospital because of the fall. But the owner couldn’t have foreseen the medical negligence.

Damage

In most cases, the victim must suffer a physical injury. Slipping and almost falling is unsettling, but it’s probably not negligence. Additionally, the injury must be something that money could compensate for. Money addresses economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages. Money doesn’t fully compensate for emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other noneconomic losses. But quite frankly, money helps.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.