Articles Posted in Nursing Home Negligence and Abuse

Recently, a top Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official advised the public that the country is still experiencing a concerning rise in coronavirus cases. The Georgia governor extended the state’s Public Health State of Emergency for an additional two weeks after health officials reported the highest daily total of Covid-19 cases shortly before July 4th. The state of emergency will continue through August 11th, which would allow public and private sectors to engage in comprehensive testing, obtain additional supplies, and ensure that healthcare facilities have adequate staff. The order requires people to continue to social distance and bans gatherings of more than 50 people, unless there are at least 6 feet between each individual. The measure also requires that medically fragile individuals and those living in Georgia nursing homes to shelter in place.

Health officials report that although the rise in cases is mainly among younger people, older and medically fragile people are still more likely to experience hospitalization and death. Reports also indicate that the most significant Covid-19 clusters occur in nursing homes, prisons, and factories. These locations experience higher clusters because of the inability to coordinate social distancing amongst the populations or the ability to shut down. Moreover, nursing homes with large outbreaks often experience high rates of death compared to the community-at-large.

Georgia nursing homes must engage in steps to prevent the virus from entering the facilities and treat those who contract the virus. Although the governor issued an order protecting healthcare workers from liability during this outbreak, facilities may still be responsible under certain circumstances. Generally, the order covers Georgia hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, personal care homes, surgical treatment centers, specimen collection centers, birthing centers, and other similar institutions. The order limits civil liability for services that healthcare workers provide or perform during the state of emergency, however, it does not protect works for claims that they engaged in willful misconduct, gross negligence, or bad faith.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion stemming from the tragic death of a Georgia nursing home resident who did not receive proper medical treatment for a bowel obstruction. According to the court’s opinion, the man was a resident at a nursing facility for approximately 11 years and was routinely treated by the nurses, physicians, and health care assistants employed by the facility. One evening, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the facility noticed that the man had brown vomit all over his clothes, and his stomach was distended. The LPN contacted the physician assistant, who told the LPN not to request a transfer to the hospital but ordered an x-ray. Since the end of her shift was approaching, the LPN became increasingly distressed and notified the nurse coming on duty and the director of nursing. However, no one examined the man until after his x-ray results arrived, which was after 10:00 a.m., at which point they transferred him to a hospital. He died later that night due to complications from his undiagnosed bowel obstruction.

The family of the man filed various claims against the facility, including a negligent staffing claim, and the jury apportioned fault among the facility and four other non-parties. The defendants appealed, arguing that the trial court incorrectly denied their motion for dismissal based on the negligent staffing issue. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were negligent in failing to staff a registered nurse over the nighttime shift and instead relying on the judgment of an LPN. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs alleged ordinary negligence, but negligent staffing falls under professional negligence, which requires expert testimony.

Under Georgia law, a plaintiff alleging professional negligence must provide an “affidavit of an expert competent to testify” regarding at least one negligent act or omission that the plaintiff is alleging. These experts must be qualified through their knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. However, ordinary negligence claims do not require expert testimony. Historically, Georgia courts have found that staffing decisions are generally business-related decisions and therefore do not sound in professional negligence. In this case, the court found that the director’s decision to only have a registered nurse on schedule during the day was a business-related decision and therefore did not require expert testimony. Ultimately, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff.

Making the decision to send a loved one or family member to a personal care home or facility can often be a stressful process. Many families, in the process of making this decision, have to consider various factors. Will the facility treat my family member with care? What if an accident happens? Is it safe? While these are valid concerns, no one expects that their loved ones will be injured or even killed when they move into these homes. When accidents involving severe injury or even death occur on the premises of such a facility, those who are responsible may be held accountable through a Georgia nursing home negligence case or other type of premises liability action.

In a recent Georgia Court of Appeals opinion, an autistic resident died after choking on food at a personal care home. The resident had been diagnosed with severe autism, was unable to speak, and had the mental age of a three-year-old child. After his loved ones decided to place him in a personal care home, his guardian informed the facility that his food needed to be cut up “because he only swallowed.”

On the day of the incident, the resident returned to the dining area after finishing his own breakfast and attempted to eat a sausage he took from another resident’s plate. In the process of eating it, the resident choked. His caretakers at the facility attempted to rescue him by performing an abdominal thrust but were unsuccessful. The resident asphyxiated on the food and died. Subsequently, the administrator of the resident’s estate brought nine causes of action arising out of his care against the personal care home, some of its staff, and the owners of the home.

Nursing home arbitration clauses have recently come under heavy scrutiny. These clauses, which may act to prevent a party from filing a lawsuit in a court of law, are often contained in large blocks of small print, making it unlikely that the person signing the contract fully understands the importance of the rights they are giving up. As a result, courts routinely invalidate nursing home arbitration agreements when the inclusion and enforcement of the clause would violate general contract law.However, in a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the Court found in favor of a nursing home, upholding the arbitration agreement that the plaintiffs signed.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the surviving loved ones of two family members who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to admitting their loved ones to the nursing home, they obtained a valid power of attorney document, giving them the ability to “dispose of all matters” related to their loved ones.

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As family members get older and require more professional medical care, many families are in a position where they cannot provide the level of care that their loved one requires. Over the past few decades, nursing homes have become an increasingly popular option for families when looking for a place for their elderly loved one. In theory, nursing homes are a great idea. However, the reality is that nursing homes and their employees sometimes fail to live up to the duty placed upon them.Generally speaking, nursing homes have a duty to each of their residents to provide a safe place to live, to provide a certain level of care, and to ensure that residents are free from abuse at the hands of staff members or other residents. If a nursing home is found to have violated this duty to its residents, it may be held financially liable for any injuries that result from the abuse or neglect.

One problem that many families face when filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a Georgia nursing home is compelled arbitration. Arbitration is a proceeding that results in a non-judicial yet binding ruling made by a third party. Many times, nursing homes will include arbitration clauses in the initial care contract, compelling residents or their families to pursue any causes of action against the nursing home through arbitration, rather than through the court system. The problem with this is that the arbitration panels are selected by the nursing homes, and the arbitration results tend to favor nursing homes. A recent case in front of the Georgia Court of Appeals shows the difficulties families may face when trying to file a personal injury or wrongful death case against a nursing home when an arbitration clause was included in an initial care contract.

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