As the novel coronavirus pandemic has swept through the United States, it has taken a heavy toll on elderly and immunocompromised victims. Besides their physical vulnerability, many of these patients lived in residential facilities or nursing homes that brought them into direct, close contact with many other people. This enabled the virus to spread rapidly, and the resulting outbreaks of COVID-19 have caused the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents. Now, family members are asking whether those facilities may be held legally responsible for the wrongful deaths of their loved ones.
Nursing Homes May Be Liable for Preventable Injury or Death
A nursing home has a greater responsibility to its patients than an ordinary landlord or housing provider. When the facility accepts a new resident, it agrees to provide them with a safe environment and take reasonable care to protect their health and safety. If the neglect of nursing home personnel causes a patient’s injury or death, the facility can be held liable, either for general negligence or medical malpractice.
Assume that a nursing home fails to install handrails near a set of stairs, or the maintenance staff neglects to alert residents of a slippery floor. If a patient or visitor suffers a fall, they could make a claim of ordinary negligence against the facility. But if a patient receives the wrong medication or develops bedsores, for example, that negligence results from improper medical care, treatment, or judgment, exposing the nursing home to a medical malpractice claim.
Nursing homes are not responsible for every injury or death that occurs in their facilities. Many patients suffer from degenerative ailments that even the most advanced medical care cannot remedy. In those situations, facilities must provide a reasonable level and type of care appropriate to each patient’s specific needs and take reasonable steps to ensure a safe environment.
Sometimes, it may be impossible for a nursing home to prevent dangerous conditions resulting in death or injury. A nursing home hit by a tornado, for instance, would most likely not be responsible if the storm caused residents’ injuries or fatalities.
Evolving Understanding of COVID-19 and Coronavirus Raises Questions of Reasonableness
Because the pandemic is caused by a novel virus never seen before, there was no established “reasonable” protocol in place to treat it or prevent its spread.
As researchers, doctors, and public health officials learn more about the new coronavirus, they have changed their recommendations of what medical professionals, nursing homes, care facilities, and individuals should do to care for patients with the disease and prevent the spread of COVID-19. And with those recommendations, the failure by a nursing home to comply may be construed as negligence.
Family members of nursing home patients began to file wrongful death lawsuits when their loved ones succumbed to COVID-19, arguing that facilities failed to take reasonable steps to keep their residents safe. The Seattle facility where the first known U.S. outbreak occurred has been sued for hiding information about the initial infections, which may have unreasonably put residents at risk. Other homes have been accused of failing to implement recommended safety measures and minimizing the danger to residents, negligently enabling the virus to spread more quickly through their communities.
Many states have implemented temporary protective orders barring wrongful death lawsuits to head off a wave of lawsuits against care facilities. However, most of these protections are set to expire when the pandemic ends. At that point, surviving family members or other parties may be able to bring wrongful death lawsuits against facilities that did not implement cleaning protocols, social distancing efforts, or other preventive measures in a timely and reasonable manner.
Talk to an Experienced Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer
If you contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus during a nursing home stay, or if a loved one died from the virus while living in a nursing home, you may have a claim for damages depending on when the injury or death occurred and the facility’s efforts to prevent transmission. To discuss your case and right to possible compensation, please contact the attorneys at Sommers Schwartz today – we’re here to help.