How To File A Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit: A Complete Guide
Nursing home abuse comes in many different forms, from physical and psychological abuse to to financial exploitation to alarming acts of negligence. This type of behavior still goes vastly underreported in institutional settings such as nursing homes, leaving many perpetrators unpunished and free to keep taking advantage of the elderly and disabled.
There are a number of resources to protect victims of nursing home abuse in California, which in emergency situations can include filing a police report to seek criminal charges or reporting the abuse to the California Department of Aging. However, there is a third way to help victims effectively recover damages incurred from nursing home abuse, and that is filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit against the facility.
What is a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit?
A nursing home abuse lawsuit is a legal dispute between a victim (the plaintiff) and a care facility or one of its employees (the defendant) for mistreatment in either a criminal or civil court of law.
Civil lawsuits offer the victim the opportunity to be rewarded financial compensation for the injuries they’ve suffered through accidents, abuse, or neglect. The parties being sued can include any of the following:
- The individual who caused the suffering/injuries due to abuse and/or neglect.
- Supervisors who were aware of the abuse/neglect or who were involved in hiring and supervising the offenders.
- The companies that own/operate the nursing home or long-term care facility.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, recent data suggests that about 95% of these types of lawsuits end in a financial settlement. Also, civil lawsuits don’t necessarily have to involve a crime; acts of negligence that are technically legal can still be grounds to file a civil lawsuit.
While criminal lawsuits punish the guilty party for breaking the law, most victims of nursing home abuse attain the financial compensation they deserve through civil lawsuits (although it is also possible for them to receive some compensation in the form of restitution through a criminal lawsuit, though it’s generally much less). Oftentimes, victims of nursing home abuse have successfully pursued cases in both a civil and criminal court of law, so it’s important to know the differences between them.
Criminal vs Civil Cases
Criminal cases are brought by the state (meaning the state acts as the plaintiff, not the victim) with a focus on punishing the guilty party for breaking a law. While this satisfies the need for justice and ensures that the offender is punished and won’t be hurting future victims, this type of case generally allotts much less autonomy to the actual victim in question, and he or she may only appear as a witness for the prosecution.
Civil cases are handled by the victim (meaning the individual acts as the plaintiff, usually represented by an attorney), who can sue the perpetrator for damages stemming from the abuse. This type of case is more focused on the victim’s suffering and how they can be compensated for it through a settlement.
Some other major differences between criminal and civil cases also include:
- Criminal cases almost always involve a trial by jury and are resolved through pleas, plea bargains, and dismissals.
- Civil cases may also involve a jury, but they are generally resolved through settlements.
In a criminal case, the state is required to provide a lawyer for the defendant if they can’t afford one.
In a civil case, the defendant must hire their own lawyer.
Burden of Proof and Penalties
- Criminal cases generally involve more severe punishments, such as fines or incarceration, and therefore must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
- Civil cases, on the other hand, are less severe and only require that a lawyer prove that responsibility for the suffering is more likely than not.
Reasons for Filing a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
In California, senior citizens or dependent adults who have experienced any of the following can file a nursing home abuse lawsuit:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Emotional or psychological abuse
- Neglect and endangerment
- Financial exploitation
If the victim is mentally capable he or she can file suit on their own behalf. If not, the victim’s family can step in and file the suit on behalf of the victim. Also, in the event that the abuse or neglect led to the victim’s death, the heirs or family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in California.
Filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit can help the victim receive compensation for any of the following:
- Increased medical bills
- Hospital expenses
- Physical therapy
- Medical equipment
- Psychological counseling
- Costs associated with transferring to a different nursing home
- Pain and suffering
- Attorney’s fees and costs of filing suit
Types of Civil Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits
When filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit, your case will likely fall into one of two categories: tort or a breach of contract.
A tort lawsuit is the most common and is defined as involving civil wrongdoings or misconduct that fall beneath what society considers a reasonable standard of care. Tort lawsuits can include:
- Abuse: Either physically or psychologically abusing a resident.
- Neglect: Refusal, or failure, to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder, such as providing necessities like food, clothing, medicine, therapy or assistance.
- Negligence: Recklessness or failure to use reasonably prudent care in a given circumstance, such as medical malpractice.
- Wrongful death: When negligence or willful harm leads to a nursing home resident’s death.
Breach of Contract Lawsuits
If a case is not covered by one of the categories in a tort lawsuit, it may fall under a breach of contract lawsuit, which is generally less common. This type of case is grounded in a nursing home’s failure to honor the terms of its contract with a resident, in which certain standards of care are contractually guaranteed by the facility. This can include perceived abuse and/or neglect.
This option may help the nursing home resident recover the costs directly associated with staying in the facility, but financial gain beyond that point is usually rare because in this case the victim is suing the nursing home directly, and most of these facilities’ liability insurance rarely covers breach of contract cases.
Nursing Home Abuse Civil Lawsuit Process in California
Keep in mind that lawsuits can be a lengthy process, so it’s important to come to expect that rather than be discouraged by it along the way. On average, nursing home abuse lawsuits can take 18 months or more from the time the lawsuit is filed to the time a verdict is reached or a settlement is obtained.
The first step is to consult with an attorney for an initial case evaluation to determine whether a lawsuit is appropriate in your case. To move forward, a civil nursing home abuse lawsuit must typically prove three elements:
- The victim was 65 or older or a “dependent adult” under California law.
- The defendant abused and/or neglected the victim.
- As a result of the abuse and/or neglect, the victim suffered damages
Once a lawsuit is ready to be filed, the following steps occur.
The two parties file paperwork with the civil court explaining their side of the story. This means that the plaintiff files a complaint detailing the events and the defendant’s liability, and the defendant responds to the lawsuit by filing similar papers with the court.
The two parties begin collecting evidence and information to support their respective cases, which can include gathering documents (such as diaries kept by the resident or photographs of the injuries), witnesses, examination of the scene, etc.
Eventually, if the parties can’t reach an out-of-court resolution of the case, the lawsuit moves to the trial phase. Each party will have the opportunity to present their case and evidence, followed by closing statements, to a judge (and sometimes a jury). The judge or jury will deliberate before coming to a verdict.
If either party does not agree with the verdict, they can choose to appeal the decision. The civil lawsuit will then go to an appellate court, which will look for errors made in the pre-trial or trial proceedings and will then either back the previous verdict, overturn it, or call for a new trial to be conducted.
Hire a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer to Help with Your Case
With the proper legal representation, navigating this long and complex legal process will be considerably easier and much more efficacious. Our nursing home abuse lawyers at Berberian Ain LLP will be with you throughout the lawsuit process to help you attain the best settlement figure and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that justice has been served to those who wronged you.
Our experienced attorneys have a proven track record of winning these kinds of nursing home abuse cases. This type of abuse should never have to be endured, and much less, go unpunished. If you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, contact us today to fill out our free case review or call us at (818) 808-0048 to schedule a free consultation.