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Can You Sue a Nursing Home for Neglect?

How to Know What Steps to Take

Quick Answer

Nursing home neglect is the inadequate care of a nursing home resident by the facility responsible for them. You can sue for neglect in every state — however, each jurisdiction has its own definition of neglect and its own procedures for handling complaints. You can resolve some issues with quality of care without going to court, but if your loved one has suffered due to neglect, a lawsuit may bring them needed compensation and closure.

What Is Considered Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect occurs when nursing home residents are not provided with adequate care.

The federal government requires nursing homes receiving Medicare or Medicaid to meet certain care standards. However, adequate care standards are mainly determined by state governments. Each jurisdiction has its own definition of neglect and its own nursing home abuse state laws.

Despite variations, most jurisdictions recognize some commonly reported forms of nursing home neglect.

Common types of nursing home neglect include:

  • Medical neglect
  • Neglect of basic needs
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Social or emotional neglect

It can be hard to tell which harmful actions count as neglect, but the differences between various types of nursing home mistreatment may determine what legal action a victim can take.

Nursing Home Neglect vs Abuse

Nursing home abuse occurs when someone at a nursing home intentionally mistreats a resident. In most states, neglect is one of the many types of nursing home abuse.

Differences between nursing home neglect and abuse include:

  • Action: Nursing home neglect is often passive — it is more about what a caretaker fails to do, rather than what they do to a victim.
  • Perpetrators: Unlike neglect, nursing home abuse does not have to be committed by someone responsible for the resident’s wellbeing. For example, another nursing home resident can commit nursing home abuse.
  • State laws: Some states make legal distinctions between neglect and abuse, varying minimum and maximum punishments.

Nursing Home Neglect vs Negligence

Negligence occurs when someone’s careless actions harm another person.

Differences between nursing home neglect and negligence include:

  • Responsibility of care: Nursing home neglect requires a perpetrator to be responsible for the care of the victim. Negligence is a failure to meet any legal duty to others, such as a nurse’s duty to make sure they give a resident the right medication.
  • Intentionality: Unlike with neglect, someone who commits negligence may not have had any idea that their actions would result in harm.
  • Legality: Nursing home neglect is a crime, while negligence is usually not considered a criminal offense. Victims of both neglect and negligence may be able to receive compensation in civil court.

What Are the Signs of Nursing Home Neglect?

Some nursing home residents may hesitate to tell anyone that they are being neglected. Others, especially those suffering from dementia and other mental diseases, may not be aware of their mistreatment.

Family members should be vigilant for any warning signs of neglect. If they notice several signs of neglect, it may be necessary to take legal action.

Signs of nursing home neglect include:

  • Absence of dentures, eyeglasses, or hearing aids
  • Ambivalence toward caregivers
  • Bedsores, especially if they are worsening
  • Confusion
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Signs of malnutrition or dehydration
  • Suspicious worsening of medical or mental conditions
  • Unexplained (or poorly explained) injuries
  • Unusual mood changes, such as agitation, depression, or withdrawal
  • Weight loss

The state of the nursing home may also suggest neglect, such as:

  • Lack of food or water
  • Lack of needed equipment
  • Infestations
  • Faulty wiring
  • Insufficient space
  • Lack of utilities
  • Outdated prescriptions
  • Poor ventilation
  • Uncleanliness
  • Hazardous living environment

Nursing home neglect can cause serious injury and even death. Even if someone is not sure that a nursing home is mistreating their loved one, they should take action and report any signs of neglect they see.

How to Report A Nursing Home for Neglect

If a nursing home is neglecting a resident, the facility should be reported.

Not all cases of inadequate care require legal action, however. In some situations, issues may be mild or infrequent, such as slightly longer-than-average response times when a nursing home resident calls for assistance.

In these cases, the problem may be resolved by speaking with the staff, a supervisor, or a resident’s social worker.

If the problem is not resolved, the following actions may be taken:


  • Follow the Facility’s Grievance Procedure

    All Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes must have a grievance procedure to address complaints. By following the steps in a grievance procedure, nursing home administrators should work with a resident and concerned loved ones to solve the issue.


  • Contact a Long-Term Care Ombudsman

    Long-term care ombudspeople protect the interests of nursing home residents by resolving complaints, conducting in-person investigations on nursing homes, and helping victims or their loved ones take appropriate action in cases of neglect.


  • Contact Adult Protective Services (APS)

    Loved ones may report any issues to a local APS agency, which will investigate the suspected neglect. If APS determines that neglect is taking place, an agent will meet with the victim to determine the best way to protect them.


  • Contact the Local Police

    If nursing home neglect may threaten a resident’s health or life, loved ones should call the police. Officers can remove the resident from a dangerous situation and find a safe place to relocate them. This will also trigger an investigation and a record of the incident.


  • Consult an Experienced Lawyer

    An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer can help loved ones report neglect and advise them on how to handle the situation. If a victim or loved one chooses to take legal action against a nursing home, an attorney who understands nursing home abuse cases will prove invaluable.

When Should You Sue for Nursing Home Neglect?

In addition to filing criminal charges, you may wish to see compensation for a resident’s suffering through a lawsuit.

A nursing home neglect lawsuit may result in a verdict or settlement that requires nursing home facilities or conglomerates to pay victims of neglect for the suffering they have caused them.

Filing a nursing home neglect lawsuit may help with:

  • Discouraging neglect in nursing homes
  • Costs associated with changing nursing homes
  • Costs associated with long-term health issues and disabilities
  • Paying medical bills
  • Seeking mental health therapy for the neglect
  • Gaining a sense of justice

Nursing home neglect can have serious consequences — consequences that should be remedied by the individuals and companies at fault.

Get a free legal case review to find out if you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation for nursing home neglect.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

View 4 Sources
  1. National Adult Protective Services Association. (n.d.). What Is Neglect? Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/what-is-neglect/
  2. National Adult Protective Services Association. (n.d.). What Is Abuse? Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/what-is-abuse/
  3. Schwartzbach, M. (n.d.). What is criminal negligence? Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-criminal-negligence.html
  4. FindLaw. (n.d.). Negligence. Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/negligence.html
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