Falls are one of the leading causes of nursing home admissions and one of the leading injuries which occur at long-term care facilities. In fact, almost two-thirds of nursing home residents fall every year. And, since many of these victims are repeat fallers, their injuries are often quite serious.
Because of the frequency and severity of these incidents, many families have lots of questions about their legal options. Nothing substitutes for a personal consultation with a Kamuela personal injury lawyer, but hopefully, this post answers some questions. So, if a dream retirement in paradise turned into a nightmare, keep reading.
What Causes Nursing Home Falls?
Many older people have pre-existing conditions which make them more susceptible to falls. Age-related Macular Degeneration is one example. When people get older, small fatty deposits sometimes accumulate around their eyes.
These deposits obscure straight-ahead vision which most people count on to see hazards on the floor, like wet spots or walkway cracks. Straight-ahead vision also helps people maintain their balance when they stumble. AMD is especially bad if the light is low or conditions are otherwise poor.
On a related note, many older people suffer from gait disorders. For example, some people shuffle their feet instead of lifting them. When these people stumble, they usually fall. Other people with gait disorders miss-steps, especially when they ascend or descend staircases.
Floor hazards are quite common in nursing homes, due to the elderly population explosion. Most facilities are in a near-constant state of repair, expansion, or renovation. Because of their health conditions, older people cannot see some hazards and cannot avoid other ones.
Who is Responsible for Medical Bills?
Generally, long-term care facility owners are responsible for medical bills and other fall-related damages. To determine the extent of responsibility, many states use a complex classification system based on common law. But Hawaii did away with these distinctions way back in the 1960s. Instead, all owners have a duty of care, assuming there was an unreasonable risk of harm.
Given the aforementioned health conditions, residents could fall anywhere on nursing home grounds. However, the risk is unreasonably high if there was an additional hazard, like a loose handrail on a staircase.
How Does a Kamuela Personal Injury Lawyer Prove Liability?
Theoretical responsibility does not make an owner liable for damages. A Kamuela personal injury lawyer must also prove that the owner knew, or should have known, about the hazard.
Direct evidence of actual knowledge includes things like property inspection reports and restroom cleaning logs. Kamuela personal injury lawyers usually uncover these items during the discovery process. However, these smoking guns are not always available.
So, the law also allows for circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge. To understand how the court evaluates this evidence, think about a banana peel on the floor. If the peel was yellow, it was probably fresh and probably just fell. So, the owner could not be expected to know about it. However, if the peel was black, it had probably been on the floor for a while, and someone should have picked it up. Brown banana peels are in a grey area.
What Are Some Insurance Company Defenses?
The open and obvious doctrine might be the most common insurance company defense in fall injury claims. Landowners are not responsible for damages if the victim fell because of an open and obvious hazard. The law on this point is rather broad, so almost any visible hazard is open and obvious.
However, this doctrine does not always apply to nurse home fall victims. “Open and obvious” is a relative term. Many older people simply do not see hazards that are open and obvious to other people.
The assumption of the risk defense often comes into play as well. Signs like “Wet Floor” or “Construction Area” make this defense easier to establish in court.
But a warning sign is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. The insurance company must prove the victim saw the sign, could read the sign and could understand what it meant.
What Damages Are Available?
Compensation in a fall injury case usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Both these categories of damages are often substantial. As mentioned, most nursing home fall victims are repeat fallers. So, their injuries are usually serious, even after a relatively minor tumble. And, after they fall, many older people are so afraid of falling again that they become prisoners in their own homes.
Perhaps more importantly, a Kamuela personal injury attorney obtains justice for fall victims. Frequently, lawsuits are the only things that convince large nursing home companies to take more precautions. So, your claim for damages prevents other people from becoming victims themselves.
How Our Kamuela Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help
Fall victims are often entitled to substantial compensation, but the claims are complex. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Kamuela personal injury lawyer, contact Olson & Sons, L.C. We routinely handle matters in Hawaii County and nearby jurisdictions. Reach us at 808-885-8533 in our Kamuela office for an appointment.