Maryland Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawyer
Nursing homes promise to provide a caring, comfortable environment for the elderly. However, they often deliver something far different: the neglect, mistreatment, and abuse of residents.
In severe cases, nursing home negligence can even lead to the wrongful death of a resident. Tragically, those impacted are often the most vulnerable members of the population, such as residents living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If the death was caused by negligence or abuse, the nursing home should be held liable for your family’s losses. If your mother, father, or grandparent died at a nursing home in Maryland, you deserve a detailed and truthful investigation into what took place.
To schedule a free evaluation of your case, call the offices of Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 and speak with our nursing home wrongful death lawyers.
Elder Abuse Statistics in Maryland Nursing Homes
Elder abuse is widespread in the United States. While some reside with family members or in their own homes, many victims live in nursing homes, which provide 24-hour care to seniors who cannot live independently.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), about 1 in 10 Americans 60 years old or older have experienced elder abuse in some way.
However, the real figure is likely far higher since, as NCOA also noted, researchers have estimated that about only 1 in 14 abuse cases are ever reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one out of every six people aged 60 or older has experienced abuse in a community setting, such as a nursing home, in the last year. In some cases, nursing home residents do not survive the abuse, and our nursing home wrongful death attorneys can help you and your family.
Some risk factors may make certain seniors more vulnerable to abuse and neglect than their peers. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), major risk factors for nursing home neglect or abuse include:
- Being female, African American, or below the age of 70
- Having a prior history of traumatic events or experiences
- Having dementia or other serious health issues
- Not having a spouse or partner
Who is the Most Vulnerable to Elder Abuse?
While we do not like to think of our parents or grandparents as being vulnerable, certain groups of older citizens are more vulnerable to abuse in nursing homes. According to the World Health Organization, there are critical risk factors to be mindful of when placing a loved one in a nursing home.
People with physical limitations or mobility problems tend to be more vulnerable simply because it is difficult for them to leave the abusive situation. A person living in a nursing home might be unable to escape their abuse if their abuser removes their wheelchair or other mobility aids.
People with mental difficulties or limitations are also at special risk of abuse. Nursing home residents with dementia or similar cognitive impairments are extremely vulnerable. They might have trouble recognizing or understanding their situation, making them easy targets. On top of that, they might have difficulty reporting the abuse to someone else.
Another important risk factor to consider is your loved one’s relationships with family members. Attenuated relationships where the victim is not very close with their family members or the people taking care of them are often associated with higher risks of abuse. An abuser in a nursing home might target someone because they are not very close with family, so nobody visits, and the signs of abuse go unnoticed.
People who need help managing their finances are in very dangerous positions. Financial abuse is sometimes overlooked as it does not involve physical injuries. However, the situation becomes serious when the victim is out on the street because their abuse defrauded or tricked them out of their money.
Possible Signs of Abuse in Nursing Home Wrongful Death Cases in Maryland
Although abuse is sometimes hard to identify, there are some signs and symptoms that might indicate something is wrong. In many cases, these signs do not become clear until after the abuse victim passes away. You should think back over your loved one’s time in the nursing home and try to remember if anything seemed out of place or unusual.
If the abuse was physical, your loved one might have had physical marks or changes in their body indicating that they were being abused. Bruises, cuts, scrapes, and other marks might be easily dismissed because they are seemingly minor. However, if such marks continued to appear over and over again or appeared without any reasonable explanation, your loved one might have been the victim of abuse.
You should also consider more serious injuries your loved one might have experienced. For example, if your loved one experienced a broken bone and needed emergency medical care, they might have been experiencing abuse. Often, abusers cover their tracks by offering a different explanation, like claiming your loved one fell and injured themselves on accident. Even so, any major injuries, explainable or not, should be marked on our timeline of your loved one’s time in the nursing home.
In many cases, the appearance of physical injuries might come up in a specific pattern. For example, suppose your loved one experienced concerning bruising and scrapes on multiple occasions, but you could not fund an explanation. The appearance of these marks may coincide with other events, like when a certain caregiver was working with your loved one. Such a pattern might indicate that this caregiver was abusing your loved one.
Noticeable Weight Loss or Gain
Not all physical changes are the results of injuries. Our bodies respond to trauma in various ways, including changes in weight. If your loved one noticeably lost or gained significant weight before passing away in the nursing home, you should consider speaking to an attorney about a wrongful death claim.
Often, significant weight loss is associated with starvation in nursing homes. While some nursing home residents have medical conditions that make eating and keeping food down difficult, this is not always the case. It is possible that your loved one was being deprived of food by the nursing home staff, and they should be held accountable for the abuse.
On the other hand, your loved one might have gained weight due to the abuse. For example, if someone in the nursing home is tampering with your loved one’s medications, they could experience bodily changes like weight gain. Tampering with medicine is a form of abuse, especially because the victim often has no control over the situation and cannot simply leave the nursing home on their own.
Changes in your loved one might be emotional in addition to physical. Abuse is traumatizing, and many victims appear withdrawn, moody, or angry. If you remember anything like mood swings, irritability, or bouts of depression your loved one exhibited, they might be signs of abuse in the nursing home.
This can be tricky to identify because people in nursing homes often report being uncomfortable and irritable for various reasons. Nursing home residents often prefer living at home, but their medical conditions make that difficult or impossible. As a result, moody or upset nursing home residents are not unusual.
Mood changes should be concerning if they are very sudden or unexpected. For example, suppose your loved one arrived at the nursing home as a relatively happy individual but suddenly became withdrawn and depressed. In that case, you might want to discuss abuse and a wrongful death claim with an attorney.
Loss of Interest in Activities
Another sign of potential abuse is losing interest in things your loved one once enjoyed. This is often a sign of psychological issues like depression and may be connected with traumatic experiences like abuse. For example, if your loved one previously enjoyed spending their time reading but became too depressed or lethargic to pick up a book, they might have been suffering abuse.
Can You Sue a Nursing Home for Negligence in Maryland?
Because nursing homes cater to some of our population’s most vulnerable members, they must meet very high standards of care established by federal law.
For example, the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), which Congress passed in 1987, requires nursing homes to create written care plans outlining ways to achieve “the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident.” the NHRA also sets forth a Bill of Rights for nursing home residents, which requires conditions like:
- Avoiding medication errors in nursing homes
- Ensuring that residents are properly hydrated and nourished
- Ensuring that the nursing home has an adequate number of staff members
- Preventing the development of bedsores (pressure sores) and providing appropriate medical treatment if bedsores do develop
If a nursing home, its individual employees, or other parties violate the law and fail to meet residents’ needs, they can be held liable for resulting deaths or injuries. Contact our nursing home wrongful death attorneys immediately if your loved one passes away while living in a nursing home.
If you believe a nursing home was negligent in providing care for your loved one, you should discuss the situation with an attorney as soon as possible.
Other than making medication errors, allowing residents to become malnourished or dehydrated, and failing to treat or prevent bedsores, additional examples of nursing home negligence include:
- Failure to assist residents who need help walking, using the bathroom, bathing, or feeding themselves
- Failure to diagnose, treat or properly manage conditions like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease
- Failure to maintain proper medical records
- Failure to provide safe, sanitary accommodations that are free from pests or hazards (such as insect infestations or fire hazards)
- Improper use of physical restraints on residents
- Overmedication or improper sedation of residents
Will the Nursing Home or a Negligent Employee be Liable for Wrongful Death in Maryland?
Many plaintiffs implicate several defendants when filing a wrongful death lawsuit related to nursing home abuse. Often, the specific staff members who inflicted the abuse and the nursing home itself are sued for damages, although sometimes only one is held liable.
Generally, if we can identify specific people in the nursing home who were abusing your loved one, we can sue them and hold them accountable for your loved one’s wrongful death. For example, suppose we have evidence proving that a nursing home orderly physically abused your loved one on multiple occasions, causing their health to decline until they passed away. In that case, we can sue that orderly for wrongful death.
Nursing homes can also be named defendants, but how we sue them might vary based on the circumstances. If the abuse occurred because of nursing home policies that either allowed or encouraged the abusive situation, the nursing home might be directly liable. However, this is not always the case.
Instead, the nursing home might only be liable for hiring the abusive staff member. Cases like this often involve allegations of negligent hiring. To succeed, we need to prove that the nursing home knew that your loved one’s abuser was dangerous and should not have been hired in the first place but proceeded to hire them anyway. For example, suppose the nursing home ran a background check and found that your loved one’s abuser had been charged with assault in a nursing home they worked in previously. That should have been a big red flag, and that person should never have been hired.
What is the Process for Filing an Elder Abuse Death Case in Maryland?
If your loved one passed away in a nursing home and you believe that abuse had something to do with it, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the people responsible for your loved one’s death. Our nursing home wrongful death lawyers can help you assess the situation and begin preparing the case.
You can file a wrongful death claim under Md. Code, Cts. and Jud. Proc. Art., § 3-902. The definition of a wrongful act under Md. Code, Cts. and Jud. Proc. Art., § 3-901(e) is an action or instance of neglect or default that would entitle an injured party to recover damages if death had not resulted. This means that if your loved one could have filed a lawsuit for damages over the abuse, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Claim in Maryland?
The law is very strict about who can and cannot file a wrongful death claim. According to Md. Code, Cts. and Jud. Proc. Art.§3-904(a), you can file a wrongful death claim if the deceased person was your spouse, child, or parent. If no such parties exist, then anyone else related to the deceased person by blood or marriage may file the claim.
This means that spouses, children, and parents are given higher priority when filing a wrongful death claim. If a wrongful death victim in a nursing home had no spouse, children, or parents, other family members (e.g., siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles) may then step in and file the claim.
People not related to the deceased person by blood or marriage are usually barred from filing claims. This means that a personal friend of the deceased person cannot file a wrongful death claim, no matter how close they were.
What Evidence Should I Provide for a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Case in Maryland
Proving your claims hinges on evidence. Without evidence, your claims will be considered baseless and quickly dismissed by the judge. Luckily, a lot of valuable evidence is within your reach, and a lawyer can help you find what you need.
If there is still time, you should talk to your loved one’s doctors and ask that an autopsy be performed if one has not been performed already. The autopsy may uncover hidden evidence of abuse. For example, the autopsy could turn up old injuries that did not heal properly and were never reported. The patterns created by these injuries may help explain how and when your loved one was abused.
We should also obtain copies of your loved one’s medical records, especially records of their time living in the nursing home. If your loved one reported injuries sustained from abuse, those injuries should be recorded in their medical history. If doctors working for the nursing home were the ones evaluating your loved one, we should have their records reviewed by other medical professionals for good measure.
Even if other evidence is unavailable, we can rely on witness testimony to build a strong case. Perhaps other nursing home residents knew about the abuse but were too afraid to come forward at the time. It is also possible that other nursing home residents were abused by the same abusers, and their testimony might be extremely powerful and persuasive.
Sometimes, other residents who experienced abuse in the same nursing home might join the same lawsuit and sue the nursing home together.
Deadline to File a Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Maryland?
The statute of limitations is an important regulation that creates a deadline for filing your lawsuit. The Maryland statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years, which means that, with a few exceptions, the plaintiff must generally file their case within three years of the victim’s death.
It’s also important to note that, under state law, only certain people may file a wrongful death claim. It depends on the nature of their relationship with the victim when they were alive.
For example, “primary beneficiaries” include the victim’s surviving children, parents, and spouse, while “secondary beneficiaries” include their siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Generally speaking, a secondary beneficiary can only file a wrongful death lawsuit if:
- None of the primary beneficiaries wish to sue
- There is no primary beneficiary
What Should I Do if My Loved One is a Victim of Wrongful Death From Elder Abuse in Maryland?
If your loved one recently passed away and you believe that elder abuse is involved, there are key steps to take to help get you and your family justice. First, contact the police. The people who abused your loved one might be criminally charged. Even if no criminal charges are assessed, making law enforcement aware of the situation is a good idea. The police might help you turn up valuable information and evidence if they conduct a criminal investigation.
Second, report the abuse to the proper authorities. Various agencies deal with elder care, adult services, and nursing homes that can investigate cases of abuse. You can call agencies, including Maryland Adult Protective Services, the Maryland Department of Aging, and Maryland’s Office of Health Care Quality, a division of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that oversees licensing of nursing homes. If you are unsure whom to contact to report the abuse, our nursing home wrongful death lawyers can help.
Third, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid case and how to begin preparing your case for court. Evidence must be gathered, witnesses interviewed, and records of your loved one’s time in the nursing home examined. Your attorney can advise you of other legal options, such as an out-of-court settlement.
Maryland Nursing Home Wrongful Death Attorney Offering Free Case Reviews
To schedule a free review of your claims, call the offices of Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291 and talk to our nursing home wrongful death lawyers.