With its warm weather, Florida has been a retirement magnet for decades. The Sunshine State has the oldest population, with seniors accounting for 19.36 percent of the total resident population. Florida has nearly 700 licensed nursing homes regulated by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Unfortunately, dozens of these facilities have been cited for serious violations of neglect and abuse.
The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home is made with great care and research to ensure a safe and supportive environment. If you suspect elder abuse in Palm Beach County, a consultation with an experienced Boca Raton nursing home abuse lawyer can be your first step toward seeking justice for your loved one. Contact Kogan & DiSalvo to discuss your legal options today.
Our Boca Raton personal injury lawyers bring a measure of compassion and sensitivity to nursing home abuse cases and work tirelessly to protect the rights of vulnerable elders.
Nursing Home Resident Rights in FL
Florida Statute 400.022 outlines the fundamental rights afforded to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
- The right to services to preserve health
- The right to be treated fairly, courteously, and with the fullest measure of dignity
- The right to be free from physical, mental, and financial abuse
- The right to convey grievances without fear of repercussion
- The right to be free of corporal punishment
- The right to receive oral and written information about medical services
- The right to participate in social, religious, and community activities
- The right to take part in health care planning, and the right to refuse suggested treatment
Despite these laws, state inspectors routinely find that residents’ lives are endangered through intentional harm, understaffing, poor supervision, or basic neglect. If you are concerned about the treatment of your elderly loved one, we encourage you to reach out to your local Ombudsman and contact our nursing home abuse attorneys.
Florida Elder Abuse
Florida has some of the most aggressive elder protection laws and nursing home regulations in the nation, including criminal prosecution for failing to report suspected abuses under the state’s comprehensive Adult Protective Services Act. The law also provides immunity from prosecution for those reporting abuses.
Florida defines elder abuse as an act committed intentionally that could reasonably cause physical injury or psychological harm, inflict psychological or physical injury, or encourage anyone to commit an act that can reasonably expect to inflict physical or psychological injury.
Common elder abuse issues observed in assisted living care facilities and nursing homes include:
- Abandonment – leaving residents unattended or unsupervised for long periods of time; failing to help with necessary tasks like bathing and dressing; ignoring resident’s calls for assistance; failing to attend to basic hygiene; or failing to administer proper medications may all be construed as abandonment.
- Assault or battery – rough handling such as shoving, kicking, slapping, pinching, or shaking may lead to signs of physical violence like unexplained welts, abrasions, broken bones, and bruises.
- Extortion – when caregivers and staff have access to residents’ finances or have gained their trust, the opportunity arises for financial extortion. Borrowing money under false pretenses or overcharging for unnecessary services and medications.
- Exploitation – financial exploitation of residents is a widespread problem. Common methods used to exploit seniors include forged signatures, embezzlement, coerced transfers of assets, inappropriate use of funds, and illegal use of power of attorney.
- Isolation – the isolation of nursing home residents constitutes. neglect and abuse. Residents who are confined to a restricted area have no opportunity to socialize, or voice concerns, making it easier for staff to manipulate and gain control.
- Neglecting care – nursing home caregivers may be liable for withholding necessities such as food, water, medication, clean clothing, and bedding. Malnourishment, pressure ulcers, and soiled clothing are often early signs of elder neglect.
- Sexual assault – Seniors with mental and physical impairments are at the highest risk for sexual assault in a nursing home. Sexual abuse can be committed by staff, aides, and even other nursing home residents. Bruises near the genital area, unexplained depression, or sexually transmitted diseases are indicators.
- Bedsores – these painful skin ulcers can develop when circulation is restricted to certain body parts due to a lack of regular repositioning. Bedsores are entirely preventable in most cases, and their presence is a blatant symptom of nursing home neglect.
- Fractures and Broken Bones – bone fractures often result from falls but can also be attributed to physical acts of violence. In either scenario, caregivers may be held responsible either for inadequate supervision or unwarranted physical abuse. Research suggests that nursing home staff often resort to rough handling to deal with physically aggressive patients with dementia or other cognitive issues.
- Improper Wound Care – bedsores, diabetic ulcers, fall injuries, and post-operative wounds need appropriate treatment to prevent worsening and infection.
- Medication Errors – Medication errors are prevalent in long-term care facilities, where staff may give the wrong drug, the wrong dose, or fail to monitor residents after giving medication. The consequences of these mistakes can be deadly.
- Emotional Abuse – Use of verbal threats, intimidation, and humiliation are all forms of emotional abuse that strip residents of their confidence and dignity. Residents may be isolated, ignored, and made to feel deserted and afraid.
- Restraint Injuries – Using vests, belts, and ties to physically restrain an agitated patient can create a number of injuries on a resident’s thin skin. Restraints may also be used when facilities are understaffed and unable to supervise their resident population. Symptoms of restraint wounds include bruises, fractures, deep abrasions, and lacerations.
- Self-Neglect – a resident’s self-neglect can adversely impact health in a short amount of time. Nursing home staff are trained to care for mentally and physically impaired residents who can no longer bathe, dress, or care for themselves.
Violations of Boca Raton elder law that are not criminal offenses prosecuted by state authorities fall under the state’s standard in civil law, which governs acts of negligence that result in injury or property damage.
To prove an act of negligence, the following elements must be met:
- Duty of care: Your Boca Raton nursing home abuse attorney will prove that a caretaker/patient relationship existed.
- Breach of Duty: An intentional act or an omission of the nursing home staff who violated this duty of care. For example, the staff failed to treat a bedsore, which worsened dramatically, causing sepsis.
- Causation: This breach or act of negligence caused the injury.
- Damages: The injury led to specific damages. In this case, treatment of sepsis would lead to additional medical expenses, as well as physical pain and suffering.
What factors can lead to nursing home neglect?
Few studies have been able to capture the magnitude of abuse and neglect in nursing home facilities. By some estimates, for every incident of physical or emotional abuse communicated to authorities, 24 cases go unreported. Underreporting of elder abuse can be attributed to several reasons, including a fear of retaliation, potential embarrassment or shame, or an inability to communicate due to cognitive decline.
Numerous factors can lead to nursing home neglect and abuse. Facilities that lack the resources and workforce to operate smoothly are less likely to meet the basic needs of their residents. This creates an unstable environment where standards of care drop drastically.
These are the primary factors associated with higher rates of nursing home abuse:
- Understaffed workforce: Chronic understaffing is a widespread problem in Florida nursing homes. Some of these facilities are for-profit businesses that make hiring decisions based on profit margins rather than adequate staff-to-resident ratios and patient care. When you do not have enough caregivers, nurses, and aides making the rounds, ensuring medications are administered, residents are not properly cared for and supervised. The second problem is hiring incompetent or untrained staff who cannot provide the level of care required for residents. Additionally, understaffed facilities mean malicious and abusive behavior can go undetected for longer periods.
- Undertraining of staff: Employees who are not adequately trained in their specific tasks and duties are ill-equipped to handle the day-to-day challenges of nursing home care. The staff needs a thorough understanding and education on caring for patients with specific disabilities, impairments, and needs. Long hours, low pay, and minimal administrative support lead to staff burnout and high turnover rates.
- Lack of supervision: Some facilities have poor management, which paves the way for staff to violate rules and regulations without consequence. It is impossible to run a safe operation for seniors without supervision.
- Lack of Accountability: Even when reported to local and state authorities, cases of nursing home abuse rarely result in severe punishments beyond lowered ratings and fines.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse and neglect manifest in different ways. Because many patients in nursing homes have Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other mental impairments that render them unable to express themselves, it’s crucial to watch for signs that indicate any of the following:
Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes
According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, elderly individuals who suffer physical abuse are at greater risk of premature death. Misusing restraints and any physical assault can result in broken bones, scratches, cuts, and other signs that are more challenging to detect. Be alert for unexplained mood changes, detachment, and disinterest in surroundings.
Signs that caregivers or staff are inflicting bodily harm:
- Abrasions and cuts
- Torn clothing
- Injuries to the skin from physical restraints
- Unusual bruising or burns
- Unexplained welts or marks on the body
- Missing hair
- Hesitation to speak in front of caretakers
- Movement with uncharacteristic pain
Our lawyers are dedicated advocates to nursing home residents in Boca Raton who have suffered any physical abuse, including those given sedative medications as a chemical restraint.
Emotional Abuse in Nursing Homes
Emotional abuse of nursing home residents can be intentional, but it can also happen with over-worked and highly stressed staff who lash out in the heat of the moment. Either way, this behavior is unacceptable and can lead to isolation, depression, and withdrawal. Studies suggest that chronic emotional abuse can increase vulnerability to illness and infection. Look for the following signs that may indicate a loved one is suffering psychological abuse:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- Development of anxiety and depression
- Disinterest in social activities or hobbies
- Weight loss
- Fearful behavior around certain staff
- Sleep problems
- Suicidal thoughts
- Unusual behavior like rocking, sucking, and teeth grinding
Financial Exploitation in Nursing Homes
Elderly residents in nursing homes, particularly those with marked cognitive decline, may be subject to financial exploitation by those who care for them. Sometimes they are coerced into loaning money. More often, their funds are accessed through illegal and fraudulent means. Signs of financial exploitation often include:
- Unexplained bank account and ATM withdrawals
- New changes in a will or estate
- Changes in the power of attorney or life insurance beneficiaries
- Unusual charges on the elder’s credit cards
- New authorized users added to credit card and bank accounts
- Unpaid bills when adequate funds exist
- Bounced and missing checks
Medical neglect of the elderly has grave consequences. Neglecting a resident’s health care needs can result in serious injury, disability, and even death. Key examples of medical neglect in nursing homes include:
- Failing to properly prepare medications
- Denying a patient medication
- Improper or negligent wound care
- Administering the wrong dosage of medicine
- Failing to report signs of illness or infection to doctors
- Failing to clean and sanitize catheters or other medical equipment properly
- Failing to move bed-ridden or immobile patients routinely to prevent pressure ulcers
Sudden weight loss, bedsores, urinary tract infections, malnourishment, and dehydration indicate that a loved one’s medical needs are being neglected.
Sexual abuse is the least reported type of nursing home abuse. The following types of behavior may merit legal action against offenders: non-consensual touch, sexual coercion, and rape. Common signs of sexual abuse of the elderly include:
- Withdrawn behavior around the offender
- Bloodied or torn undergarments
- Unexplained genital infections and diseases
- Bruising or abrasions around the breasts and private parts
Role of a Boca Raton Nursing Home Lawyer
Our highly skilled legal team is dedicated to protecting seniors who have been harmed in Florida nursing homes. Victims and their families may bring a lawsuit against negligent parties or those who enabled the abuse or neglect.
The goal of hiring legal counsel is straightforward: to ensure that your loved one’s basic rights have been upheld and to hold abusive and negligent facilities accountable for their wrongdoing. We will investigate the nursing home’s history to see if a pattern of abuse or safety violations exists and if its hiring practices and employee incompetence contributed to the abuse.
Nursing home owners, operators, and staff will be interviewed under oath to discover any evidence that will help the case, including attempts to cover up the abuse.
Our attorneys handle every facet of the legal process, from independent investigations to settlement negotiations with the defendant. As your legal representative, we will:
- Gather evidence: this may include previous citations against the facility, medical records, photographic evidence, witness testimony, staff logs, expert testimony, and other information to build a solid case
- Comply with Florida’s pre-suit investigative and notice process
- File your claim within the statute of limitations
- Conduct discovery, in which both legal teams request specific information from the other
- Provide regular updates on the case status and important milestones
- Resolve your claim: Many cases are settled between the parties through mediation. Your Boca Raton nursing home attorney will present evidence to the nursing home’s insurance carrier and negotiate a damage award that properly accounts for all losses. If a favorable settlement is not forthcoming, our attorneys will take your case to trial.
Florida Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits
Victims of nursing home abuse generally have two years to file a lawsuit for damages in Florida. This statute begins on the date that the abuse and injury occurred or the date when the victim’s family should have reasonably been aware that the injury occurred. Once the statute of limitations expires, any claim for compensation will be dismissed by the courts.
How Much Is Your Case Worth?
Litigation can be an effective means for recovering monetary damages in a nursing home abuse case. The amount of compensation recovered will depend on a variety of factors, including the amount of insurance coverage held by the defendant, the severity of injuries sustained, and the extent of medical bills incurred. Compensation should reimburse the claimant for losses such as:
- Medical expenses
- Out-of-pocket costs including home healthcare services, transportation to a new facility, and mobility devices
- Pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages: If the defendant’s actions constitute intentional misconduct or gross negligence, then punitive damages may be warranted as punishment
If your loved one died because of negligent treatment or abuse in a nursing home facility, your family might be able to file a wrongful death claim for:
- End-of-life medical costs
- Funeral expenses
- Cremation or burial costs
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of benefits and inheritance
How Much Do Experienced Elder Abuse Attorneys Cost?
Our law firm believes everyone deserves access to exceptional legal counsel, which is why our nursing home abuse lawyers work on a contingency basis. We do not charge flat fees or hourly rates and will advance all costs to bring a valid lawsuit against negligent nursing home facilities and staff. Our clients do not have to worry about upfront expenses and only pay attorney costs if the claim is successful.
Who May Be Held Liable for Nursing Home Neglect?
If neglect, abuse, or mistreatment are proven, the victim and their family may file a civil claim for damages. Any person or entities that contributed to the injury or death of the claimant may be named defendant. This may include:
- Registered Nurses, Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs)
- Physicians Assistants and doctors
- Nursing home administrators
- Nursing home owners and parent companies
- Custodians and maintenance staff
- Contracted aides and care providers
Free Case Review in Boca Raton
Frequent nursing home visits to check up on your father, mother-in-law or grandmother can only do so much. If you suspect your loved one has been harmed at the hands of the very people entrusted with their care, Kogan & DiSalvo is here to help. Reach out today for a free, no-obligation consultation with a Boca Raton nursing home abuse lawyer.