If you or a loved one has been injured, abused, or neglected by a nursing home or its staff in New Jersey, you may be able to file a lawsuit and recover for damages, punish the nursing home, and even have your attorney’s fees reimbursed under the Nursing Home Act. Typical lawsuits filed under the act include those for physical abuse, assault, negligence, and improper medical and hygienic attention.
Abuse does not necessarily have to be physical. Emotional abuse for mistreating a resident of a nursing home can also cause serious damage. Unfortunately, such non-physical abuse can be very difficult to detect and sue for.
What Constitutes a Nursing Home?
It’s important to understand what exactly constitutes a Nursing Home under NJ law. A “Nursing home” is defined basically as any place that has facilities for extended medical and nursing treatment or care for various unrelated people suffering from a serious physical ailment or disability, or who require significant assistance meeting their daily needs such as eating and bathing. The law identifies a person living in such a place as a “resident”.
This distinction is important as some facilities that act similarly to traditional nursing homes like assisted living facilities and rehabilitation centers may not be afforded the same protection as a nursing home resident under the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities & Rights of Residents Act.
If you have a family member residing in a nursing home, it is important to be diligent in identifying signs of abuse and neglect by staff there. Some signs of such abuse/neglect and reasons to consider suing a nursing home include:
- Injuries that appear to be non-accidental;
- Unexplained “Illnesses;”
- Resident ceasing to socialize and becoming withdrawn;
- Dirty or unsafe living conditions;
- Insufficient staffing;
- Resident not appearing to be receiving proper hygienic and living assistance (look for bed sores;
- Reemergence of symptoms of previous illnesses and ailments (possibly demonstrating failure to properly administer or monitor medications) Typical infections among nursing home residents include Respiratoryand Urinary tract infections. But more serious infections for MRSA, Staph, and Pneumonia also commonly occur in nursing homes.
- Not receiving notification from the Nursing Home of significant changes in weight, consistent mood, appetite, sickness or injury;
- Lack of supervision of patients suffering from dementia (can lead to patient walking off home grounds);
- Staff failing to properly monitor diet and hydration;
- Suspicious death.
- Medical neglect.
If you suspect that a loved one is being abused or neglected at a nursing home. You may consider visiting the home on different days and time to check the consistency of your observations pertaining to the staffing and facility.
Ask your loved one to keep a journal so any abuse or neglect can be contemporaneously corroborated.
Take detailed notes and photographs. Make sure to ask questions of the staff members about your loved one’s specific diet, activity, and medical treatment included administration of medication. If you suspect any abuse or neglect by the nursing home or staff, contact the administration of the facility, appropriate state agency, and an attorney.
Nursing home residents have rights under New Jersey law. Similarly, the homes themselves have certain proactive legal duties. Under federal law, nursing homes must provide residents with periodic assessments, nursing, rehabilitative, and pharmaceutical services, social services. Furthermore, those rights and responsibilities must be posted prominently at the nursing home. The federal government in addition to the State of New Jersey monitor nursing homes and enforce these mandates.
Other Federal rights and obligations regarding nursing homes include:
1) The home must maintain complete records concerning any money or personal possessions of the resident that are administrated or monitored by nursing home. The home must provide a quarterly statement to the resident detailing these funds and/items;
2) The home must maintain records concerning certain beneficiary information of the resident;
3) The home must provide access to certain religious services and visits by clergy to the facility;
4) The home must avoid overcrowding;
5) The home not discriminate against any resident on the basis of age, race, religion, or sex;
6) The resident has the right to be safe and without being subject to unnecessary physical restraint, confinement, or corporal or medical punishment;
7) The resident has the right to receive visitors, including family members, clergy, and attorneys.
8) The home must provide the resident or their guardian with a copy of their service contract.
The U.S. federal government also provides its own protection to nursing home residents. Those rights include:
The Nursing Home Reform Act established the following rights for nursing home residents:
1) The right to freedom from abuse, mistreatment, and neglect;
2) The right to freedom from physical restraints
3) The right to privacy;
4) The right to accommodation of medical, physical, psychological, and social needs;
5) The right to participate in resident and family groups
6) The right to be treated with dignity;
7) The right to exercise self-determination;
8) The right to communicate freely;
9) The right to participate in the review of one’s care plan, and to be fully informed in advance about any changes in care, treatment, or change of status in the facility; and
10) The right to voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal.
Filing a lawsuit against a nursing home is relatively complicated, and should be handled only by an experienced attorney. Such a lawsuit is “civil” and can be filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey – Civil Division, usually in the county in which the nursing home is located. Nursing homes are of course required to carry insurance. If you or a family member are injured at a Nursing home, you may be contacted by their insurance carrier.
Before signing anything they ask you for, or even speaking with the insurance company at all, you should consult with an experienced attorney. If you sue a nursing home, they will be indemnified by their insurance company, who will then become your adversary in the litigation that follows. Most civil lawsuits in New Jersey have a two-year statute of limitations within which time you must file the complaint against the defendant.
If you believe you or someone you love is a victim of nursing home abuse reach out to a qualified attorney immediately. Anthony J. Vecchio is an experienced NJ Criminal Defense attorney and will be able to advise you of options based on your unique situation.