Nursing Home Wrongful Death Attorney
We stand up for Alabama families after unthinkable losses
When you place your loved one in a nursing home, you have every right to expect the facility to take care of them. Too often, however, that’s not the case. When nursing homes neglect their residents, lives are at risk. Nursing home neglect kills – and we hold facilities accountable.
Calling a lawyer is likely the last thing on your mind after losing a loved one, but it’s important to know your rights and options. We can handle the legal implications while you focus on grieving and moving forward. Schedule your free consultation with a nursing home wrongful death attorney at Shuttlesworth Law Firm LLC today.
What causes wrongful deaths in nursing homes?
Because nursing home patients are elderly or in frail health, many incidents and diseases can turn deadly if the nursing home doesn’t provide proper care. Some causes of wrongful death in nursing homes include:
Sepsis and septic shock
Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of an untreated infection. The infection triggers a chain reaction of tissue damage throughout the body, causing organ failure and other life-threatening issues. Septic shock – a severe drop in blood pressure due to sepsis – is a medical emergency that can be lethal if not treated immediately.
Almost any type of infection can lead to sepsis if untreated. Some of the most common causes of sepsis in nursing homes are:
- Pressure sores, also known as pressure ulcers or bedsores, occur when residents lie in the same position for too long. Nursing homes are responsible for regularly turning patients in bed to prevent pressure ulcers from forming. They also need to perform regular body audits to catch any bedsores early and treat them before they can become infected.
- Urinary tract infections (UTI) can occur due to poor hygiene, misuse of catheters, and dehydration – all of which can be a result of medical neglect or basic needs neglect. An untreated UTI can become septic (urosepsis), which can be deadly.
- Lung infections, such as nursing home-acquired pneumonia (NHAP), are some of the most severe infections common in nursing homes. Respiratory infections must be treated immediately to avoid fatal complications such as sepsis.
Nursing homes need adequate staff and resources to monitor residents for infections. Diagnosing an infection in an elderly resident can be difficult because their baseline body temperature may be lower than a younger person’s – meaning an elderly resident with a seemingly normal temperature might actually have a fever.
Dehydration, hypernatremia, and kidney injury
Nursing home residents are exceptionally vulnerable to dehydration and malnutrition because they may have difficulty eating, drinking, and swallowing, and because aging can cause decreased hunger and thirst. Untreated dehydration can lead to hypernatremia, a medical term for having too much sodium in the blood. While both dehydration and hypernatremia are treatable, they can lead to confusion, seizures, coma, and even death if left untreated.
Dehydration also increases the risk of acute kidney injury (AKI), also known as acute renal failure (ARF) or kidney failure. Acute kidney injuries are usually reversible, but they progress quickly, so the nursing home needs to intervene promptly to prevent potentially fatal complications.
Nursing homes must monitor residents while eating and drinking to ensure they get enough liquids. They also need to intervene immediately if a resident shows warning signs of dehydration.
Falls and head injuries
Falls in nursing homes are serious business that can lead to severe injuries. For example, a resident who falls and hits their head may develop a brain injury such as intracranial hemorrhage (brain bleed), which can be fatal. Falls can also cause fractures (broken bones), such as broken hips; while a fracture is usually not lethal in itself, it can lead to other complications that can threaten a resident’s life if not treated properly.
Elderly people are highly vulnerable to falling, so nursing homes need to minimize the risk. That includes maintaining the physical space to eliminate fall hazards: providing good lighting, keeping walkways clear of trip hazards, cleaning up spills promptly, and so on. It also means helping residents in and out of bed and using assistive devices appropriately. Residents who are on certain medications or have certain medical conditions may be at an elevated risk of falling, and nursing homes need to be aware of those risks and take appropriate precautions. They also need to intervene promptly to get treatment for a resident who does fall.
Choking and aspiration
Again, nursing home residents often have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), so they are quite vulnerable to choking and aspiration (inhaling food or drink). Other causes of choking incidents include poorly fitting dentures (which can make it difficult to chew food), laying down during meals, dry mouth, and food texture.
Nursing homes must proactively prevent choking incidents by putting residents with dysphagia on soft diets. They also must closely monitor residents during meals to ensure they are properly cutting and chewing their food and respond promptly if a resident chokes. Immediate intervention such as CPR can prevent fatal brain damage, but only if a trained staff member is present and responds appropriately.
Complications from previous injuries
There are some types of injuries and illnesses that, while not fatal on their own, can lead to severe and even life-threatening complications for nursing home residents who are in frail health. For example, a hip fracture is unlikely to cause death directly, but if it requires surgery and a postoperative wound is not managed properly, it can become infected and lead to sepsis. Nursing homes need to take responsibility for resident health and avoid these complications.
What is a nursing home wrongful death claim in Alabama?
A wrongful death claim is a civil action seeking damages (financial compensation) for a death that was due to the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of another party (in this case, a nursing home or similar facility).
Your wrongful death lawsuit is distinct from any criminal charges (such as elder abuse or homicide) that might be brought by the State of Alabama in connection with the same death. However, since the standard of proof is lower in civil court, you may be able to win your wrongful death case even if there is no criminal conviction.
Who can file a nursing home wrongful death claim in Alabama?
In Alabama, when an adult passes away due to a wrongful death, only the personal representative (executor) of their estate can file a wrongful death claim. Family members such as a surviving spouse or adult children cannot generally file a wrongful death claim; you must go through probate and be named as the personal representative first. Usually, you have up to two years from the date of death to file a lawsuit.
What damages can you seek in a wrongful death claim?
Alabama differs from most states in that wrongful death claims can only seek punitive damages; that is, damages intended to punish the at-fault party and deter similar behavior. You cannot seek compensatory damages like funeral costs, medical bills, and pain and suffering. In other words, it’s not about the financial value of the life lost; it’s about the nursing home’s conduct and wrongdoing.
Fundamentally, nursing home wrongful death cases are about accountability. No amount of money can bring your loved one back, but holding the nursing home accountable can provide a degree of closure. It can also help to deter future nursing home abuse and neglect by sending a strong message that endangering our elders will not be tolerated here in Alabama.
Talk to an experienced nursing home wrongful death attorney today
To hold the nursing home accountable, you need to prove that their negligence caused your loved one’s death. This is not easy; unfortunately, people do die of natural causes in nursing homes all the time, so the facility often has a built-in alternative explanation. They may argue that there was nothing they could do. An experienced Alabama nursing home abuse and neglect attorney can investigate and get to the bottom of what happened.
Our legal team knows how to hold nursing homes accountable. We review documents, interview witnesses, cross-reference stories, and engage experts when necessary to piece together what happened and how the facility failed to meet its duty of care. Often, we’re able to negotiate a fair settlement. If not, we are always ready to take negligent nursing homes to court and fight for your family’s rights before a judge and jury.
If you lost a loved one to nursing home abuse or neglect, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your options in a free, confidential consultation. No obligation, no pressure, just answers. Contact us today to discuss your situation with an experienced nursing home wrongful death attorney. We’re based in Birmingham and serve families throughout Alabama.