As the elderly population in Washington State continues to expand, understaffing becomes more and more of a problem.
According to some estimates, as many as 90 percent of the long-term care facilities in the state may be dangerously understaffed.
Understaffing is even worse during nights, weekends, and other low census periods.
Understaffing has real consequences for nursing home residents. Some facilities lack the personnel to attend to basic resident needs. Other facilities hire dangerously unqualified people to fill important positions.
Either way, understaffing often results in wrongful death.
Damages in a nursing home wrongful death settlement usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
The survivors may also receive compensation for their emotional and financial losses.
Wrongful Death Causes in Washington Nursing Homes
Wrongful death is almost never “accidental.”
At some level, negligence is usually involved. That negligence triggers a wrongful death settlement, and the amount of that settlement could be substantial.
Generally, the neglect in nursing home wrongful death settlements involves a lack of ordinary care. Some examples include:
- Bedsores: If caught early, pressure ulcers often heal on their own. But if they are not caught early, bedsores are usually life threatening. Many understaffed nursing homes do not watch residents closely enough or help them rotate positions in bed.
- Physical Assault: Most nursing home residents are physically frail and/or suffer from at least one adverse physical condition. As a result, a little force causes serious injury. That physical force could come from another resident or from a staff member.
- Falls: Slip-and-fall injuries are generally the leading cause of nursing home wrongful death settlements. The majority of nursing home residents fall at some point, and falls are a leading cause of unintentional death for persons over 65.
Honorable mention, or perhaps dishonorable mention, goes to prescription medication errors. In busy, understaffed nursing homes, it’s easy to give a resident the wrong pill or the wrong medication dosage.
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First Party Liability
In nursing home wrongful death cases, the plaintiff may introduce direct or circumstantial evidence of negligence.
Assault cases are a good example of direct evidence matters. Generally, someone saw the incident. Or, the incident may be recorded on video. So-called “granny cams,” which are hidden surveillance cameras in nursing home rooms, are generally legal in Washington State.
Falls, on the other hand, often involve indirect evidence of negligence and the res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) rule. If negligence probably caused the victim’s injury or illness, and the landowner had exclusive control over the area where the incident occurred, the defendant may be negligent as a matter of law.
Res ipsa loquitur cases are complex legal claims which have lots of moving parts.
Third Party Liability in Washington State
In nursing home wrongful death settlements, individual tortfeasors (negligent actors) often do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensations. In fact, in many cases, they may have no personal insurance at all.
Fortunately, Washington State has very broad third party liability rules. These rules give plaintiffs an additional source of compensation. Some common theories include:
- Respondeat Superior: This doctrine often comes up in negligence cases, like bedsore injuries. The employer is responsible for the negligent acts of an employee which are committed during the course and scope of employment.
- Negligent Hiring/Negligent Supervision: These doctrines, which are very similar to one another, often apply in assault and other intentional tort cases. Nursing homes and other employers have a duty to properly hire and supervise workers, especially when these workers provide health care services.
Washington State is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple tortfeasors, the judge usually apportions damages among them based on their percentage of fault.
Rely on an Experienced Lawyer
Nursing homes are risky places for your loved one. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Yakima, contact Kapuza Lighty PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Yakima County and nearby jurisdictions.