While it may be difficult to tie nursing home neglect to wrongful death, it’s important to understand what a family can do in the event of their loved one’s death. Kevin McCullough of Mazow McCullough law firm talks about how nursing home wrongful death cases are different than other wrongful death cases. Listen or read more to find out about wrongful death in nursing homes.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and I’m here today with Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today, we’re talking about wrongful death cases involving nursing homes. Welcome, Kevin.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
John: So Kevin, how common are wrongful death cases involving nursing homes?
Kevin: You know, John, unfortunately they are quite common, in that people are living longer. They’re unable to take care of themselves, and/or don’t have family members who are able to take them in and take care of them. So, we’re seeing more and more people going into nursing homes or assisted living facilities, which leads to more issues and incidents resulting in wrongful death occurring at those facilities.
Nursing Home Neglect May Lead to Death
John: We hear a lot about nursing home neglect or abuse happening in nursing homes. Are those things related to actual fatalities in nursing homes as well?
Kevin: They can be. We see a lot more on the neglect side than we do on the abuse side. It does occur, but it is rare to have staff members proactively abusing or hurting residents at nursing homes or nursing facilities. But, something that is quite common is the neglect aspect, and that usually results in the facilities having too many patients that they can handle and just not enough staff to take care of the patients. So, patients are sitting for longer periods of time, whether it’s on the same sheets on their bed, unable to have their bed pans changed or unable to get assistance to and from the bathroom, different dietary restrictions, unable to get some help with eating or food, or just simply getting from their room to the dining area to get a meal. So, we are seeing a lot more of the neglect side and neglect type cases at these nursing facilities.
John: Okay, so because that cause is really the lack of care or something not happening, does that make it very difficult to tell if a loved one has died of natural causes or of wrongful death because of that neglect?
Kevin: You know, oftentimes it can be difficult. If someone suffers a fall at a nursing facility, it’s easy to pinpoint that trauma or that incident resulting in death, but the neglect cases over time can be difficult if they do lead to death, or a wrongful death claim can be difficult to trace or track. It’s important, as family members, when you go up to visit a loved one, to be mindful of your surroundings, of what you’re seeing, the interaction with the staff, and you and the staff and your family member or loved one. If you notice things that just seem out of the ordinary or don’t make sense, to speak up, ask questions, document things on your end — because if something happens resulting in death and it’s a result of a series of activity or failing to do a certain activity over time, it can be difficult to prove or to trace back to the staff of the nursing facility. So, you do want to be mindful of that when you’re visiting and going up to take care of a loved one or family member.
How Nursing Home Wrongful Death Cases are Different
John: Okay. What are some of the things that make a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit different from other types of lawsuits?
Kevin: You know, John, there are a number of different things that make nursing home wrongful death claims different from other types of claims. What we see, and we’ve seen it for years now and we still see it, is the difficulty that can come about with proving causation of the death to a certain event or a certain incident, in that the people who are living at these assisted living facilities are just either older or physically unable to do certain things. When you’re trying to prove causation of an event or that a certain event caused someone to die or pass away, it can be difficult if someone has a long list of preexisting issues or preexisting health problems.
Those are some of the complexities that we work through that are a little bit different in the nursing home facility arena, but we also see the insurance companies for these nursing facilities are so much more proactive these days. What I mean by that is they are literally changing the game in the playing field in that when you now go to bring a family member, a loved one, to a nursing facility and you sit down to do that initial meeting or that initial intake, the residency agreement that the facilities are having the patients and the family members sign are legal and binding contracts. These nursing facilities are adding language to those contracts to make it difficult to pursue the nursing facility or staff member if they have done something wrong, and difficult to recover from the nursing facility or staff member if they’ve done something wrong.
A good example of that is they are including these arbitration provisions in these residency agreements, which basically completely takes away the ability to sue in court and have your day in court before a jury to decide whether or not the nursing facility or staff members have done anything wrong. And if what they did do wrong or fail to do led to the death of your family member or loved one, they’re changing the arena that you are allowed to fight and pursue, and they’re forcing these families to go to arbitration, which is . . . it can be a pretty cold procedure that unfolds. It’s not nearly as formal as a court proceeding, but it takes away a lot of the different rights and remedies that you may otherwise have in court by adding this language to those residency agreements in contracts.
John: Who is the arbitrator if you do end up going into arbitration? Who gets to decide who that arbitrator is?
Kevin: That’s a great question, John. What we’re seeing so far is that the nursing facilities are requiring these disputes to be arbitrated, but they don’t specifically name arbitrators or the names of individuals who may hear the evidence. The provisions that we’re seeing in these contracts simply state that your only forum to seek redress is by way of arbitration, and if the parties cannot agree upon an arbitrator, they each get to select a proposed arbitrator, and then the two arbitrators actually decide on the ultimate arbitrator who will hear the case and make findings on the case. Great question, though, John.
John: Yeah, so it would be important then to choose an arbitrator that you feel really comfortable with. If you have gotten into this situation where you have signed one of these contracts like you said, that has an arbitration clause in it; at least you’ll be able to get somebody on your side who you can trust.
Kevin: Yeah, it would be great if these facilities would allow some input from the residents or the family members who are coming to them with their family members and loved ones, but what we’re seeing is that they just simply add this language into the contracts, which leaves it out there with some uncertainty as far as who hears it. But, as you mentioned, there is a little bit of comfort level in that if you can’t agree upon an arbitrator with that nursing facility that you may be battling with or against because of the loss of a loved one, you do get to select an arbitrator who can help lead you to the ultimate hearing officer who will make the decisions on that case.
John: All right, that’s really great information, Kevin. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Kevin: Thanks for having me, John.
John: For more information on personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com, or call 855-693-9084.