A nursing home, or its owner, or proprietor, can be held liable for negligently caring for its residents. In such a case, the injured resident must prove: 1) that the nursing home’s owner or employees breached a duty of care owed to the resident; 2) that the resident was injured by this breach; and, 3) that the nursing home owner’s or employee’s conduct caused the injury. In a case where a resident dies because of the nursing home’s negligence, it is not necessary to prove that the resident would have survived if not for the negligence. If the defendant accelerated the resident’s death by just minutes or even seconds, it may be liable for such death, and if the negligence caused the resident additional pain and suffering, the nursing home can be liable to the resident’s estate.
The liability of a nursing home owner or employees can result from negligent personal supervision and care, negligent hiring and retention of employees, negligent maintenance of the premises, and negligent selection or maintenance of equipment. A nursing home can be liable under the doctrine of “respondeat superior” for any wrongful acts of its employees that are committed within the scope of the employee’s duties. To succeed under this theory, the injured person must show that at the time of his or her injuries, the employee was acting on behalf of the nursing home and in furtherance of its business.
Nursing home operators are under a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid injury to their patients, and the reasonableness of the care is assessed relative to the patient’s physical and mental condition. A nursing home has a duty to safeguard residents from the foreseeable consequences of their various physical and mental impairment(s), which includes taking reasonable precautions to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.
In most states, there is not a common law duty to have a onetoone nurse/patient ratio or provide 24hour monitoring of residents. Nonetheless, a nursing home must consider each resident’s physical and mental condition, and formulate an appropriate standard of care for each resident. If there is a known danger the resident may encounter due to his or her condition, the nursing home must do what is reasonable to prevent foreseeable injury to the resident. This includes protecting residents from hazards that may either cause them to injure themselves or be injured by others, including other residents.
A contract between a nursing home and a resident may affect the duty of care owed to the resident. If a contract requires only that the home provide such services as are “reasonably necessary” for the resident’s wellbeing, courts often hold the duty owed is the same as that owed under the common law for that jurisdiction. Some courts hold private nursing homes to be the same standard of care applied to private hospitals.
Where a nursing home has knowledge of special facts relative to certain residents, liability for failing to respond appropriately to such information may be imposed. For example, where nursing homes have had knowledge of violent or aggressive behavior of patients who later attacked other residents, they have been found liable for their failure to protect the other residents and/or supervise the violent residents.
The following are additional examples of cases when the failure to respond appropriately to certain facts resulted in nursing home liability:
- Where a nursing home know a resident was subject to occasional dizzy spells, the home was liable for an injury caused by a fall;
- Where a resident was a smoker, had the use of only one hand, and was otherwise immobile, his death from burns sustained when his clothing caught fire was attributable to the nursing home’s negligence;
- Where a resident who had recently had cataract surgery fell down a stairway, the nursing home was found liable;
- Where a resident suffered from cerebral arteriosclerosis and senile psychosis, nursing home liable for injuries caused by resident’s leap or fall from window.