Nursing home abuse cases can be some of the most serious and highest awarded lawsuits that lawyers litigate. Abuse in nursing homes are another form of malpractice suit but there is something very sinister that hangs over cases where elderly or disabled people are abused in environments that are supposed to be protecting their welfare.
Cases where nursing home residents are neglected to the point of developing open bedsores and lying in their own excrement are intolerable to most people who don’t even see the situation let alone sit through a trial and hear every detail. It gets worse where evidence emerges and describes situations beyond negligence. Juries hear details of physical abuse where defenseless patients are battered, beaten and sexually assaulted.
Occasionally, residents die in nursing homes as the result of gross negligence or outright criminal acts committed by nursing home staff or by other residents whom nursing home care workers failed to protect the deceased from. Again, juries hear of these disgusting details and their emotional response often shows in the size of lawsuit compensation they award to the plaintiffs.
Jury members are human and their verdicts reflect this. Jury members tend to relate the recounted abuse to their own personal situations and wonder what it would be like if their loved one was the victim of that abuse. They get mad and these emotions spill over during their deliberations. It’s called a “guilt factor” where this underlying factor leads jurors to treat nursing home abuse cases differently than other medical malpractice lawsuits.
Lawyers know about this “guilt factor” that leads to massive compensation awards for damages and punitive actions. That may well be why very few nursing home abuse cases are put before juries and the vast majority settle out of court, often on the courthouse steps.
Before looking at individual settlements and trying to establish what the average nursing home abuse case value might be, it’s important to review the factors that lead to deciding what’s considered as fair compensation.
Factors in Determining Case Values
The primary factors for calculating lawsuit awards in nursing home abuse cases are:
- Economic damages where an actual cost has been absorbed such as medical expenses, loss of income and specialist fees including legal fees in litigating the case
- Non-economic damages such as emotional trauma, pain, suffering, and loss of a loved one
- Punitive damages that are awarded as punishment against the defendant and also mean to act as a case precedent and deter other nursing homes from committing similar neglect or abuse.
Case values vary tremendously across each state where the application of laws differs according to the jurisdiction.
Most of the laws pertaining to nursing home regulation and funding are federal statutes. Generally, the United States Federal Government has set a national standard that all nursing homes, regardless of which state they’re located in, must adhere to. It’s up to each state to administer the laws and to hold offenders accountable through the state courts whether they be criminal offenses or civil lawsuits.
Each state has its own procedures for handling civil cases involving nursing home abuse lawsuits and the awards for compensation or the terms of settlement widely vary across state lines. This not only involves the amount of monetary awards but for exactly what type of damage that juries are allowed to decide on.
The primary differences between jurisdictions are:
- Decision of economic damages. A number of states will not consider that a victim in a nursing home is entitled to compensation for loss of income as technically they were not employed.
- Payment for medical bills. Often, all medical bills are paid by insurance companies who are not parties to the lawsuit and are not entitled to compensation unless they litigate separately.
- Decision on punitive awards. Many states do not let juries make a decision on punitive amounts as they feel that is a punishment matter that’s best decided by the court.
- Caps on damages. Some states have installed a cap on the amount of damages that a jury or even the court can award. This is to prevent grossly overcompensated cases that arise from the “guilt factor” and set precedents that spiral out of control.
Over 95% of nursing home abuse cases are settled out of court and often the terms of the settlement are kept private including the size of compensation payment. This lack of public information makes it difficult to assess an average case value, although it’s fair to say most out-of-court settlements would be far below the publicized amounts that civil court juries have awarded.
Some literature reports the average nursing home abuse case value ranges around $750,000 which includes all damages and the law firm fees. The actual amount that the plaintiff receives would be far less, probably in the $150-200,000 range.
There are many recorded nursing home abuse settlements across America. Here are some of the case values awarded:
Individual Nursing Home Abuse Case Values
- $65,000 in Pennsylvania for a fractured lower left leg
- $190,000 in Delaware for an untreated, bleeding bedsore
- $195,000 in Michigan for a fractured hip from an unsupervised fall
- $250,000 in Massachusetts for ingested foreign objects
- $300,000 in Michigan for a Stage IV bedsore
- $375,000 in Ohio for a blocked respirator causing breathing difficulties
- $400,000 in Alabama for an improperly installed feeding tube
- $1 million in Maryland for undiagnosed rectal bleeding
- $1 million in Mississippi for a fall from a wheelchair
- $1.84 million in California for a broken hip
- $4.5 million in Oklahoma for a hypothermic death
- $7.5 million in Kentucky for an accidental bedsheet strangulation death
- $12.3 million in Arkansas for a fractured hip resulting in death
- $65 million in Texas for a death resulting from sexual assault
- $200 million in Florida for a death after falling downstairs in a wheelchair
The largest recorded jury-awarded compensation in a nursing home abuse case is 1.1 billion dollars. This was after a 69-year-old Florida woman died in a nursing home and was not discovered for weeks.