Tales From Our Files: Undocumented Nursing Home Accidents

Regular readers of this column know that our office routinely undertakes the representation of senior citizens who have been injured and, in some cases, killed, due to nursing home abuse or neglect.  The facts that comprise each individual case are universally sad and nearly always preventable.  One recent case illustrates this point.

On May 22, 2015, an elderly and long term Alzheimer’s patient, was transported from her residence at a nursing home to the emergency room of a nearby hospital with an obvious deformation of her right leg.  Her medical records at the nursing home revealed that she had been completely dependent on her caretakers for all activities of daily living.  She was mostly bed bound, and could only transfer to a chair via a Hoyer lift.  Upon arrival at the hospital, it was determined that she had sustained a displaced femur fracture.  The treating physician noted that this injury had the appearance of possibly having existed for days prior to his examination.  The resident’s family alleged that they had not been timely notified of any kind of accident or fall. Indeed, the resident’s medical chart at the nursing home made absolutely no mention of or reference to any sort of accident that may have occurred.  Upon examination at the hospital, the emergency room physician also noted that the resident’s bones were “diffusely demineralized.”  This compromised condition, the defense ultimately alleged, likely caused the bone to break organically, rather than as a result of an external trauma.  Throughout the pendency of negotiations, the defendant refused to acknowledge that an undocumented accident had in fact occurred.

As a result of her injuries, the decedent underwent a right femur debridement closed reduction pinning external fixator surgery on her open fracture.   Unfortunately, five days later, the resident died for unrelated reasons. 

Several well-known Boston law firms declined to accept this case, particularly because the resident’s death was seemingly unrelated to the injury she sustained while at the nursing home.  The fact that the resident suffered with this injury for only 5 days before her death was also a factor in persuading these “ivory tower” law firms to pass on accepting this case. 

It has never been our practice to reject what we believe to be a meritorious nursing home negligence case merely because the elderly victim’s suffering was limited to a finite period of time.  Rather, we felt honored to represent this senior citizen and to hold the facility fully accountable for their negligence and their purposeful failure to properly document their resident’s accident and resulting injuries.  

We ultimately settled the above case for nearly $200,000, (which had the concomitant effect of allowing surviving family members to feel somewhat vindicated after being ignored by the facility for so long).  What was perhaps even more satisfying, however, is that we successfully persuaded the facility to offer to the family a formal apology for their improper conduct.