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Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

Understanding How Lawsuits Work

Quick Answer

A nursing home abuse lawsuit is a legal dispute by one party against another in a civil or criminal court of law. Civil lawsuits award financial compensation to wronged individuals, while criminal lawsuits focus more on punishing a guilty party for breaking the law. Pursuing a lawsuit may lead to compensation that can help undo the damage caused by nursing home abuse.

What Is a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit?

A nursing home abuse lawsuit is the civil or criminal court process that a victim (plaintiff) of mistreatment at a nursing home may go through to hold those who wronged them (defendant) liable.

Sometimes nursing home abuse victims are financially compensated for their injuries without the need to file a lawsuit. But if disagreements arise regarding who is at fault or how much a victim should be compensated, filing a civil lawsuit may be necessary.

Even then, most civil lawsuits end in settlements before a jury gives a verdict. Criminal trials are also often ended before a jury verdict through pleas.

Quick Facts About Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

  • According to Black’s Law Dictionary, as few as 5% of all civil lawsuits receive a verdict.
  • Most victims pursue financial compensation through civil lawsuits, but criminal lawsuits may also offer some compensation in the form of restitution.
  • Civil nursing home lawsuits do not have to involve a crime. Negligent acts may be legal but still considered a civil wrong.
  • Many nursing home abuse victims may have cases that can be successfully pursued in both a criminal and civil court of law.

Civil Lawsuits vs Criminal Lawsuits

While the word “lawsuit” usually refers to civil court proceedings, nursing home abuse lawsuits may be civil or criminal.

Differences between criminal and civil cases include:

  • Access to a Lawyer

    The state must provide an attorney to any defendant who requests one. However, in a civil case, the defendant must hire their own lawyer.

  • Penalties

    Criminal lawsuits focus on punishing the defendant for a crime through fines and incarceration. In a civil case, defendants usually compensate plaintiffs for their financial losses and suffering.

  • Plaintiffs

    Criminal lawsuits usually have the state or federal government as a plaintiff, rather than the victim. This is because criminal court is about a defendant breaking the law — not the individual victim’s suffering. Civil lawsuits name the victim as a plaintiff and serve to compensate the individual.

  • Proof Requirements

    While a criminal case requires a defendant’s fault to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a civil case has lower standards of proof. A plaintiff must prove the defendant’s responsibility for their suffering is more likely than not.

  • Trial Type

    Both civil and criminal cases may involve a trial by jury, but most civil cases are resolved through settlements. Most criminal cases are resolved through pleas, plea bargains, and dismissals.

Why File a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit?

Filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit may allow victims to get compensation from and justice against those responsible for their pain and suffering.

A plaintiff may receive lawsuit compensation through:

  • A verdict: A trial jury decides if the defendant is at fault. If the defendant is found liable, the jury determines how much compensation the defendant must pay the plaintiff. In criminal cases, a jury decides if a defendant is guilty or innocent of the crimes they were accused of.
  • A settlement: The defendant and the plaintiff agree on a compensation amount before a civil lawsuit’s verdict and sign a legally-binding document, ending or preventing a trial.
  • Restitution: Victims of nursing home abuse receive criminal case compensation through restitution — money or services a guilty party must give their victim as a way of making up for the harm they have caused.

Lawsuit compensation may benefit a plaintiff by helping them:

  • Discourage future mistreatment of nursing home residents
  • Pay for medical bills
  • Pay for mental health therapy
  • Pay for physical therapy
  • Pay for costs associated with changing nursing homes or family caregiving
  • Receive justice for their pain and suffering

A plaintiff’s main reasons for filing a lawsuit and the details of the individual case will determine what type of lawsuit a victim pursues.

Types of Civil Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

Often, nursing home abuse cases cross the boundary between criminal and civil law — sometimes for the same act.

For example, in a case where a nursing home staff member shoved a patient, causing them to fall and break a hip, the staff member may be held criminally liable for physical nursing home abuse and be sued in a civil court for the same act.

There are two basic types of civil nursing home abuse lawsuits:

  • Tort
  • Breach of contract

The majority of nursing home lawsuits are tort cases.

Tort Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

Victims file tort nursing home abuse lawsuits to get compensation for the harm caused by the defendant.

Types of nursing home abuse tort lawsuits include:

  • Abuse: Intentionally harmful acts such as hitting or constantly belittling a nursing home resident may fall under the broad definition of abuse.
  • Medical malpractice: When a health care professional acts outside of the standards in their profession, and it injures a patient, the professional has committed malpractice.
  • Neglect: Neglect is a form of abuse in which the perpetrator fails to uphold their duties to care for someone who is unable to care for themselves out of carelessness, indifference, or unwillingness.
  • Negligence: Negligence describes a failure to take the appropriate and/or ethical care expected in a given circumstance, such as in cases of medical malpractice.
  • Wrongful death: When a nursing home resident dies because of someone’s negligence or intentional harm, the surviving family may file a nursing home wrongful death lawsuit.

To win a tort case, the plaintiff must prove:

  1. The defendant committed the harmful act that the plaintiff claims they did
  2. That act actually harmed the plaintiff or their property

Nursing homes usually have liability insurance for cases of negligence and malpractice, so victims are often able to collect more compensation through a tort case than a breach of contract case.

Breach of Contract Lawsuits

Breach of contract describes a nursing home’s failure to honor the terms of its contract with a resident — often involving terms of adequate care. Breach of contract suits are less common than tort lawsuits against nursing homes.

A breach of contract lawsuit may help a nursing home abuse victim recover the amount they paid to the nursing home, but compensation beyond that is often limited because nursing home liability insurance rarely covers breach of contract cases.

This means a nursing home abuse victim would have to sue the nursing home directly, receiving only what money the business, itself, could provide.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit Process

Lawsuits can be complicated, especially when the opposing parties cannot come to an agreement before a verdict is made. In addition, different nursing home abuse state laws may influence the trial process from state to state.

From the time a lawsuit is filed to the time a jury makes a verdict, both a civil lawsuit and a criminal lawsuit may last one year or more.

The general steps of a nursing home abuse lawsuit are:

  1. Pleadings: The plaintiff and defendant file paperwork with the civil court (a complaint and answer, respectively), explaining their side of the story.
  2. Discovery: Once both parties have completed the pleadings process, they enter the discovery phase — a process in which both parties obtain information to help strengthen their arguments.
  3. Trial: If the dispute is not settled out of court, the lawsuit moves to the trial phase. There, both parties present their arguments to a jury or a judge. The judging party makes a verdict.
  4. Appeal: In a civil trial, either party can appeal a decision they do not agree with. In a criminal trial, a guilty defendant may appeal.

Criminal case proceedings may use different names for the steps and may involve slightly different actions, but lawsuits generally follow the same steps.

A plaintiff in a civil nursing home abuse lawsuit must prove three things:

  • That the nursing home was in a legal contract to provide care
  • That the nursing home failed to uphold its duty of care
  • That the facts stated in the lawsuit resulted from a lack of care

A good nursing home abuse lawyer will work with plaintiffs throughout the lawsuit process to prove all of these points as thoroughly as possible, increasing clients’ chances of winning their cases.

Get Compensation for Nursing Home Abuse

Despite the complexity and time involved in the lawsuit process, many victims of nursing home abuse find the compensation and peace of mind worth the effort.

Before beginning the process of filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit, look for an attorney with direct experience winning these kinds of cases. Such a lawyer can help you navigate the complex laws surrounding nursing home abuse, win you a strong compensation package, and help you get justice against those who wronged you.

Our experienced legal partners are ready to help you find out if you may be entitled to compensation for nursing home abuse. Fill out our free case review form to get in touch.

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 5 Sources
  1. The Law Dictionary. (n.d.). What Percentage of Lawsuits Settle Before Trial? What Are Some Statistics on Personal Injury Settlements? Retrieved December 18, 2019, from
  2. Stevenson, D. G., & Studdert, D. M. (2003). The Rise Of Nursing Home Litigation: Findings From A National Survey Of Attorneys, Health Affairs. Retrieved December 13, 2019, from
  3. NOLO. (n.d.). When Can You Sue a Nursing Home for Negligence? Retrieved December 18, 2019, from
  4. LexisNexis Litigation Resource Community Staff. (2010). New Attorney's Guide to the Steps in a Lawsuit. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from
  5. Carl Vinson Institute. (2004). The Difference between Torts and Crimes. Retrieved December 18, 2019, from
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