Out of the thousands of nursing home abuse lawsuits that are filed each year in American courts, the vast majority of cases reach a settlement out of court and before a trial process is complete. It’s estimated that over 90 percent of nursing home abuse lawsuits are settled, leaving a small fraction to take their chances in a full and drawn-out litigation procedure.
Despite the ugly allegations involved in nursing home abuse actions, in settling both the plaintiff and defendant(s) agree to a set of facts and a compromised compensation that’s awarded to the plaintiff to cover personal injury and medical costs, disability funds, disfigurement payment, emotional distress and the inevitable legal fees.
Benefits of Nursing Home Abuse Settlements
Compromising on an award settlement provides a degree of assurance or a guarantee for both sides that the abuse matter is resolved without taking a chance on going through an expensive trial and having the matter dismissed or a much heavier settlement awarded.
Some of the benefits coming from reaching an out-of-court nursing home abuse settlement include:
- Speeding up the process
- Saving considerable expense in legal fees
- Maintaining privacy of the abuse details
- No registration of a guilty verdict or record of judgment
- Flexibility in decision-making
- Reduction of stress that a trial would cause
Knowing what to settle for and when to reach the settlement is something that an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer specializes in. Making that decision without the advice and help of competent legal counsel doesn’t typically end favorably for the victims. A lawyer is there to help the plaintiff navigate through the complex legal process that surrounds nursing home abuse cases. Part of their job is to educate their client on what a settlement is, what a typical settlement process is like and what the family can expect.
Here is what’s necessary to know about reaching a lawsuit settlement in a nursing home abuse case.
What is a Settlement?
In civil law, a settlement is considered an agreed-upon resolution between the disputing parties involved in having their matter decided through a legal process. This can be before or after a legal proceeding has started and always occurs outside of the courtroom. It’s usually negotiated by opposing lawyers who are each acting on behalf of the plaintiff and defendant.
A settlement is a legal contract in which the parties agree to a specific resolution that usually involves monetary compensation for wrongdoing. In a nursing home abuse case, that could be allegations of neglect involving poor supervision or intentional acts of physical, emotional, sexual or financial trauma.
The terms of the settlement will include responsibilities of the parties to make amends for the abuse. That normally involves a lump sum of money being paid by the defendant to the plaintiff that includes covering legal bills and often punitive damages. Terms and conditions may also include a waiver of future responsibility, a non-admission of guilt or sometimes an apology whether public or private.
Usually, an offer to settle is made by one party to the other early in the process, often before legal proceedings begin. It may be a legal maneuver to “test the waters” and determine the opposition’s stamina or it might be a genuine offer which admits to the abuse and generously offers amends.
Often, the settlement is reached after considerable negotiation between counsel for the parties but it’s always reached independently of a judge or jury’s decision.
What a Typical Settlement Process is Like
Settlements can occur at any time during a nursing home abuse case. It may be before a legal process is commenced and might be simply done by letters of offer and acceptance. This is rare for larger, complex cases of nursing home abuse and usually take place after all the facts are established and each side has a chance to take stock of their position.
In order to understand what the typical settlement process is like, it’s important to know how the overall civil trial procedure operates. A settlement can be reached anytime during one or more of these legal steps:
- Written contact expressing concerns and asking for response
- Face to face meeting and negotiation between plaintiff and defendant
- Mediation between parties — often informal and not recorded
- Arbitration by an independent party in recorded, formal setting
- Pleadings with a “complaint” and the “answering” being filed in court
- Discovery and depositions of pertinent witnesses under oath
- Expert witness testimony and evidence being heard
- Motions regarding points of law and case precedents being ruled on
- Timing and setting of trial date
- Trial which may be heard by a judge and jury
A settlement can still be reached during the trial stage and often is, however, once a ruling occurs there is no possibility of settling out of court. The remaining legal steps are:
- Verdict or ruling on responsibility
- Post-verdict challenges
- Award of costs and fees
The final step in a lawsuit settlement is called the “release” where the defendant’s attorney releases all funds to the plaintiff’s lawyer. Here funds are disbursed including the deduction of legal fees and applicable court costs.
What the Family Can Expect
Families who are filing an abuse lawsuit against a nursing home should be prepared for a lengthy, complex and probably a stressful process. There is little need to worry about out-of-pocket expenses as virtually all lawyers who take on abuse suits against nursing homes work on a fee-recovery basis where they are paid for professional services as a percentage of the compensation award.
Families should also expect that a lawyer who specializes and is experienced in nursing home lawsuits will be fair and open with them about the realities of the case. This includes the benefits of either settling for a certain amount or proceeding through the gamble of a full trial and uncertainty of the outcome.
Settlement amounts for nursing home abuse cases range greatly. They depend on the severity of the abuse and the damages as well as the location or jurisdiction where the action takes place.
Here are some examples of settlements reached in U.S. nursing home abuse cases:
- $65,000 in Pennsylvania for a fall and fractured leg resulting in amputation
- $150,000 in Pennsylvania for a slip, fall, and a non-fatal head injury
- $250,000 in Massachusetts for a schizophrenic man choking on foreign objects
- $375,000 in Ohio for a man who suffocated from an expired oxygen bottle
- $400,000 in Alabama for an improperly inserted feeding tube placed in a lung
- $1,000,000 in Maryland for a woman’s death from undiagnosed rectal bleeding
- $1,000,000 in Mississippi for a fall, fracture and death by pulmonary embolus
- $1,100,000 in New Jersey for an accidental electric shock causing death
- $1,840,000 in California for hip injury that permanently disabled a woman
- $4,500,000 in Oklahoma for a woman trapped in a walk-in freezer
- $5,200,000 in Arkansas for a sepsis death after ignored abdominal pain
- $7,120,000 in Kentucky for amputated legs after untreated arthritis complaints
Of course, there are significantly more details to each of these specific cases. It’s important for families to understand that these settlements can be used as a guideline for information purposes. The range of settlements really depends on the individual case facts, how well the case is prepared and how competent of representation both the plaintiff and defendants have.
Ultimately, your own potential settlement amount will depend largely on your unique complaint as well as the knowledge, experience, and professionalism of the counsel obtained.