L.S. entered a nursing home in 2008 because of severe dementia. Her family contacted the Chicago Nursing Home lawyers at Lipkin & Higgins after she fell at the nursing home in 2010, fracturing her hip.

Nursing homes have a duty under Illinois and Federal law to evaluate a resident’s needs within 30 days of admission. One of the issues which must be evaluated is whether the resident is a fall risk. Upon her admission, L.S. was deemed a significant fall risk. Thereafter, L.S. remained a significant fall risk through every quarterly assessment during her three-year stay at the nursing home. In fact, soon after being admitted, a social worker noted that L.S. was not a candidate to remain at the nursing home, because in addition to her having dementia, she wandered and lacked safety awareness. L.S.’s risk of falling was heightened because she actively roamed around the nursing home and she could not be counted on to make ordinary decisions to protect herself. The social worker felt L.S. required a special placement. Nonetheless, L.S. was allowed to remain at this facility.

While nursing homes are not set up to provide one-on-one care, nor can they physically restrain a resident unless strict requirements are met, it is incumbent on the nursing home to develop a care plan that prevents falls once a resident is deemed a fall risk.

Not all falls mean the home was guilty of negligence (or “abuse” in the language of the Illinois Nursing Home Act). In this case, the fall prevention modality employed by the nursing home was “frequent monitoring,” meaning, whenever L.S. was walking about, staff were to be on the look out for her. If L.S. appeared unsteady, staff were to rush to her assistance. In the three years L.S. was a resident, she experienced three instances where she fell while sitting down in a chair or getting up. There were no instances where she fell while wandering about.

Over time, L.S.’s condition deteriorated. She was diagnosed with psychosis and visual problems and had limited communication abilities. However, staff, as well as her attending doctor who saw L.S. on a monthly basis, felt that she was in good enough health and allowed her to wander freely about the nursing home. Then, one evening after leaving the dining room, L.S. fell, fracturing her hip. The incident went unwitnessed and she was found on the floor by a visitor, not a staff member. Staff could not say what caused the fall, how long L.S. had been on the ground, who had last seen her, or how much time elapsed since she had last been monitored.

L.S. required surgery to repair her fractured hip. Unfortunately, she had a stroke, unrelated to the fall, three weeks later. L.S. never recovered from the stroke and died 10 months later. Following her stroke, damages could no longer be assessed against the nursing home as L.S.’s condition was severely limited by her stroke, rather than her fall. Her legal case continued under Illinois law on behalf of her adult children.

To the Chicago nursing home attorneys at Lipkin & Higgins, an unwitnessed fall meant that the home violated its own safety rules, and far from “monitoring” L.S., had actually ignored her. The nursing home did not want to acknowledge its negligence and litigation ensued. Depositions of some 20 staff members occurred and expert witnesses from South Carolina and Arkansas were deposed.  On the eve of trial, the nursing home offered $125,000 to settle, which the family accepted.

Nursing homes are expected to be safe havens for elderly loved ones who are no longer able to take care of themselves. Age-related medical conditions incapacitate residents and render them dependent on staff for their basic well being. It is an arduous job and must be performed in a competent, professional manner. If you believe a loved one in a nursing home has been neglected, call Lipkin & Higgins to discuss your concerns.