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Nursing home falls can happen for many reasons, including medication changes, low blood pressure or infection. Unfortunately many falls can be avoided and are often caused by neglect with vulnerable older people being left unable to move or lift on their own.

Our FAQ guide on falls within a nursing home setting covers the reasons why falls can happen as well as what you can do as a family member of someone who has suffered a fall.

Why do nursing home falls occur?

Nursing home falls can happen for various reasons, such as:

  • Poor mobility
  • Residents being left unattended
  • Residents being vulnerable
  • Side effects of their medicine
  • Hazards in their environment not being handled properly

There are also medical reasons why falls can happen such as low blood pressure, infection, change in medication or general changes in a health condition.

As we get older, we experience changes in our health and wellbeing that affect our balance and spatial awareness and issues like degenerative eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma can all reduce visibility. While staff should be aware of these conditions for each patient, issues like staff shortages or inexperience can lead to residents being left alone and unable to move safely.

It’s not just sight conditions that can affect a person’s balance either as nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis can reduce mobility too, putting them at higher risk of falling.

Falls can also be caused by environmental hazards like uneven floors, poor lighting, poorly fitted wheelchairs and beds, spills that have not been cleaned up, or furniture that is in disrepair. As nursing home residents may find movement such as crossing their room, lifting in and out of chairs and even wearing ill-fitting shoes, all impact their mobility, care staff should always be vigilant and ensure none of these hazards cause them to fall.

In instances where a person has been left to move around hazards, use faulty or broken equipment or even dressed inadequately that results in them falling over, neglect is typically the cause.

How serious can falls in nursing homes be?

A fall can be deadly within a nursing home setting, especially if the resident is left alone or has suffered serious internal injury. According to the Nursing Home Abuse Center, in a typical year a nursing home with 100 residents will report between 100-200 falls. That’s at least one per resident.

The majority of falls result in broken bones, including a broken wrist, ankle, hip, or arm as an older person will have less bone density and thinner skin, coupled with other health conditions that make their bones more fragile.

A nursing home resident who breaks a bone may have to deal with months of rehabilitation or the injury may be so significant that it results in a permanent disability. This can then lead to other complications or infection that may sometimes also lead to them being hospitalized or dieing as a direct result.

Tragically, a fall can also result in a head injury, which can be extremely serious depending on the extent of the injury.

The Nursing Home Abuse Center reports that of the 1.5 million US people living in a nursing home, around 1,800 individuals die from falls in any given year.

Are nursing home falls preventable? 

Sadly the majority of nursing home falls are preventable as long as:

  • Staff are given the right training
  • There are enough staff to adequately care for every resident
  • All facilities are regularly checked for faults or issues that may cause harm.

Nursing home falls can be prevented as long as staff at the facility take the necessary precautionary measures. Staff need to remain vigilant and work towards improving the health and safety of all residents consistently. They will need to ensure they are using safety equipment and techniques that are made available to prevent such falls.

Sadly, there are some occasions where a fall happens as a direct result of abuse or neglect, and whilst these could have been prevented, often family members are unaware there is an issue with neglect or abuse. Residents may be left for hours at a time after having had a fall, unsupervised and possibly unable to move themselves.

For the most part, a fall can be prevented but in the situation where there is obvious fault, family members need to be able to distinguish between the two. For high-risk patients, facilities should implement procedures where patients are checked upon frequently and assisted every time they need to move.

What can I do to prevent a fall in a nursing home for my loved one? 

If your loved one is living in a nursing home and you’re concerned about their safety or mobility, you can ask staff to observe them over a period of time. This will help you understand what level of care and support is available to your loved one as well as help with concerns about their welfare.

When you visit your family member in their home, have a look around their own personal areas as well as the main social rooms to make sure there are no environmental hazards. Check for things like steps, uneven floor, water leaks, or even broken furniture that could easily cause a fall.

If you notice something is missing or needs changing, make sure to tell staff or even management to help change. You can make specific requests for things such as low beds, floor mats, and even bed rails which can all help significantly reduce the risk of falls.

If you notice mobility reducing or any difficulty, you are also entitled to request other equipment such as a frame, sticks or wheelchair to help prevent any accidents.

What rights do nursing home residents have?

Arizona state law requires all nursing homes to clearly display resident rights on the premises.

Additionally, nursing home residents or their legal representative must receive a copy of nursing home resident rights when they first join the facility.

Arizona nursing home resident rights include the right to:

  • Be free of abuse, neglect, exploitation, manipulation, coercion, seclusion, and unnecessary restraint
  • Receive aid from others in understanding, exercising, and protecting each resident’s rights
  • Be fully informed of each resident’s medical conditions and overall health status
  • Receive treatment that respects and supports each resident’s choices, individuality, abilities, and strengths
  • Withdraw consent or refuse treatment before it is initiated
  • Be informed of the facility’s complaint process and policies on health care directives
  • Receive a referral to an alternative facility if the current facility cannot provide proper physical or behavioural services

Who is responsible for a fall in a nursing home?

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities must provide a level of care that is suitable to the basic standard of living and safety measures. If injury or death occurs when a patient or resident is under the care and supervision of a nursing home facility or employed staff member, the nursing home may be legally responsible.

To begin to determine fault, an investigation into the nursing home’s practices should be launched by a legal professional who has experience in such cases.

How can I know if a fall caused my loved one’s death?

Identifying the cause of death of your loved one is tricky as medical examinations and investigations may be needed. This is more likely if you’re uncertain about the cause of death or if you suspect that the death could have been caused by a fall.

Falls can also lead to other health conditions like fractures, sores, bruises, or wounds that may then lead to further health complications. A fall can lead to other emotional, psychological or physical issues, which may then lead to death.

Expert medical witnesses can help testify as to the cause of your loved one’s death and hiring an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer will help in identifying whether the fall was a direct cause of their death.

How much financial compensation can I claim from a fall case?

A financial settlement in any nursing home abuse claim will vary due to a number of factors including whether the case reaches trial or a settlement is agreed outside of court. Generally speaking, damages are awarded in two main categories; compensatory damages and punitive damages.

  • Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff for his or her losses that resulted from the injury. These include things like medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. In a case where a fall results in death, the compensation amount will reflect that.
  • Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for his or her conduct and deter similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are typically only awarded if the behavior was particularly egregious or reprehensible eg. there was solid evidence of neglect or abuse that resulted in the fall being unavoidable.

If both parties can’t agree on a compensation amount, they go through the trial process and rely on a jury’s verdict to decide the case. This will ultimately include whether a plaintiff should be compensated, and if so, how much money they should receive. The actual amount of damages awarded will depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case.

What steps should I take if my loved one experiences a fall?

All nursing homes have a contractual responsibility to prevent falls, accidents, and injuries from happening. If your loved one has had a fall that can’t be explained, it’s important to take the necessary legal action to make sure something similar can’t happen again.

Nursing homes are responsible to ensure that the safety and care of the residents are maintained and provided without fail, at all times.

While legal action won’t bring back the health or even life of a loved one, it can bring peace to families who feel betrayed by an institution in which they placed their trust. It can also provide comfort by reassuring a victim and their loved ones that the pain they experienced will not be experienced by others in a similar position.

Our experienced attorneys offer comprehensive guidance on all personal injury matters by phone or video conference call.

Our team of lawyers work closely with their injury clients across Arizona, communicating clearly whilst offering reassurance and empathy through an often very difficult and emotional process. During the free consultation, our lawyers will discuss your concerns before creating a comprehensive plan for you, while also assessing the strength of your claim.

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