March 2010 Archives

Nursing homes patients often require physical therapy and/or occupational therapy as part of their rehabilitation process.  These residents may be at risk for falling as a result of numerous factors including physical and/or cognitive disabilities, muscle weakness, or side effects of medications.  We have encountered situations where nursing home residents have experienced falls during physical therapy or occupational therapy treatments.  These falls may be the result of improper and/or inadequate supervision by the nursing home staff.

According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC"), the average nursing home resident experienced 2.6 falls per year.   The CDC reports further that approximately 10% to 20% of nursing home falls result in serious injuries, and approximately 1,800 nursing home residents die each year as a result of falls.

Sadly, a nursing home resident's fall may result in significant disability, functional decline, reduced quality of life and even death.  Of particular concern, are traumatic head and brain injuries resulting from nursing home falls that do not receive immediate medical attention and treatment. 

Traumatic brain injury (also called intracranial injury) occurs when an outside force traumatically injures the brain and may result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object following a fall.  The severity of traumatic brain injury ranges from mild (a brief change in consciousness or mental status) to severe (extended period of unconsciousness or loss of memory) based upon a scale called Glasgow coma scale. 

The United States National Institute of Health ("NIH") has reported that approximately half of severely injured patients will need surgery to remove or repair hematomas (ruptured blood vessels) or contusions (bruised brain tissue).  Even if the fall victim has no visible signs of brain injury, brain bleeding or swelling may begin slowly and result in pressure on the brain as the blood has nowhere to escape.  As the pressure increases, brain cells begin to die with devastating results.  

It is therefore critical to prevent falls in nursing home residents through the use of proper preventative measures and precautions, and carefully monitoring of nursing home residents by the nursing home staff.  In the event that head trauma results from a fall, the nursing home staff must take immediate steps to ensure that the injury is immediately evaluated by the patient's doctor or an outside hospital. 

A sample Maryland Circuit Court Complaint involving claims of nursing home negligence relating to a nursing home fall sustained during physical therapy treatment follows:

COMPLAINT

 Plaintiff, [insert name], by his attorneys, hereby file this Complaint against Defendants, [insert names], and in support thereof states as follows:

PARTIES AND JURISDICTION

 1.   At all times material to this case, Plaintiff has been a citizen and resident of the State of Maryland. 
 2. At all times material to this case, [insert Defendants] have been operating nursing homes and engaging in the practice of medicine and rehabilitation services in Baltimore City and throughout Maryland, acting through actual and/or apparent agents, servants and/or employees.
 3. The venue for this claim is proper in Baltimore City, Maryland.  The amount in controversy exceeds Thirty Thousand Dollars ($30,000.00).

FACTS COMMON TO ALL COUNTS

4. At all times mentioned and relevant herein, [insert Defendant] has been licensed by the State of Maryland to own and operate nursing homes in Maryland and has held itself and its agents, servants and employees out to the general public as experienced, competent and capable providers of medical and rehabilitation services, and in such capacity owed a duty to [insert name] to render that degree of medical care and skill which is ordinarily rendered by those who devote special study and attention to the practice of medicine and rehabilitation services. 
5. At all times mentioned and relevant herein, all individuals at [insert Defendant] who participated in the care provided to Plaintiff were acting on behalf of [insert Defendant] and within the scope of their employment and/or agency with [insert Defendant].
6. On or about [insert date], [insert name] was admitted to [insert name of nursing home] for rehabilitation services after being discharged from [insert name of hospital] where he had been treated for a right-sided, middle cerebral artery stroke with resulting left hemiplegia, left hemisensory loss and left neglect.
7. As part of his rehabilitation therapy at the nursing home, [insert name] received physical and occupational therapy.
8. [Insert name]'s initial history and physical examination revealed that he had significant left-sided hemiparesis and neglect with deficits in his sitting balance and gait.  It was also noted that [insert name] had poor insight into his deficits.
9. [Insert name] underwent a physical therapy evaluation on [insert name] during which it was noted that he had poor trunk control and poor sitting balance in a wheelchair.  It was also documented that [insert name] was prone to abrupt position changes in the wheelchair and had a tendency to push himself to the left until he was leaning over the left arm of the wheelchair.  The therapist also noted that [insert name] had decreased vision and impaired perception of spatial relations on the left side.
10. [Insert name] was noted to be at high risk for falls because of the deficits described above, as well as his history of a previous fall in [insert date].  Under these circumstances, the standard of care required the nursing home staff to implement appropriate fall precautions at all times with [insert name].
11. On [insert date], [insert name] fell out his wheelchair while receiving physical therapy.  Predictably, he fell to his left side and struck the left side of his head and body on the floor.  [Insert name] was initially unresponsive following the fall, and a rapid response team was called in to evaluate him. [Insert name] was transported to the hospital and he underwent a CT scan of the head that showed extensive intracranial hemorrhage.  [Insert name]'s mental status was noted be waxing and waning with episodes of somnolence.  [Insert name] also complained of pain in his left side, and a subsequent CT scan of his abdomen revealed a hematoma in his left psoas region.  Over the next few days, [insert name] developed anemia secondary to internal bleeding and required multiple blood transfusions.  He was also noted to have multiple contusions secondary to his fall.
12. [Insert name] was ultimately discharged from the hospital and transferred to nursing home for further rehabilitation.  Since his discharge from the hospital, [insert name] has suffered multiple seizures and continued deficits in his mental status and functioning that his doctors have causally related to the fall and intracranial hemorrhage that he suffered on [insert date].

COUNT I (Professional Negligence)

13. The Plaintiff incorporates all of the allegations contained in the above paragraphs as if those allegations are set forth in this Count.
14. Defendant, individually and through their actual and/or apparent agents, servants and/or employees, owed [insert name] a duty to exercise reasonable care in their treatment of him.
15. Defendant, individually and through its actual and/or apparent agents, servants and/or employees, breached the above-described duty of care to [insert name], thereby deviating from the applicable standards of care, and were otherwise negligent, careless and reckless in that they, among other things:
a. failed to implement appropriate fall precautions for [insert name] despite the fact that he was know to be at high risk for falls;
b. failed to utilize appropriate restraints on [insert name]'s wheelchair despite the fact that he had poor sitting balance and was observed to be prone to abrupt position changes and leaning heavily toward his left side while in the wheelchair; and
c. were otherwise negligent and violated the applicable standards of care.
16. As a direct and proximate result of the above-described deviations from the applicable standards of care and breaches of duty by Defendant, [insert name] was caused to sustain serious, painful and permanent injuries to his body, including great physical and mental pain and suffering.
17. As a further direct and proximate result of the above-described deviations from the applicable standards of care and breaches of duty by Defendant, [insert name], among other things, was forced to undergo medical treatment, and, as a result, was obliged to expend sums of money for medical, hospital and other care and treatment and was precluded from engaging in his normal and usual pursuits and activities, among other injuries and damages.
18. Had Defendant followed the appropriate and applicable standards of care, [insert name] would not have suffered the above-identified injuries and damages.
19. The injuries and damages herein complained of were directly and proximately caused by the negligence and want of care of Defendant, with no negligence on the part of [insert name] contributing thereto.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff requests that a judgment be entered against the Defendant for compensatory damages in excess of Thirty Thousand Dollars ($30,000.00) and any other relief to which this Court finds him entitled.

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Please feel free to contact the nursing home neglect lawyers at Dever & Feldstein, LLC at (888) 825-9119 for a free consultation if you believe that a family member or loved one has sustained serious injury or wrongful death as a result of a nursing home fall, bedsores (also known as pressure sores or decubitus ulcers), medication error/prescription mistake, dehydration, malnutrition, elder abuse or elder neglect.

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