legal resources necessary to hold negligent facilities accountable.
Nursing Home Choking Deaths
Choking deaths among nursing home residents are almost always a product of neglect and negligence. Elderly people are more prone to choking due to age-related changes, such as lack of saliva, tooth loss, and conditions that impair proper eating. When nursing homes fail to address these issues, choking can occur.
Choking can result in brain death in just ten minutes. For older adults in nursing homes, the risk of a choking death is significantly higher due to their frailty.
Was your loved one a victim of a nursing home choking death? If so, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can help you obtain the justice your family deserves.
Contact our nursing home abuse attorneys at (800) 926-7565 (toll-free phone number) for a free consultation to determine your legal rights..
Why is Choking Common Among the Elderly?
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than half of choking deaths involved people older than 74.
Several factors increase the risk of choking among elderly nursing home residents, including:
- Reduced Saliva Secretions: As we grow older, our body's saliva becomes significantly lower. We need saliva to keep chewed-up food (bolus) moist and allow it to travel smoothly to the pharynx and esophagus. Older adults with deficient saliva secretions can choke because the bolus is too dry.
- Dental Problems: Insufficient teeth and ill-fitting dentures can make it difficult to chew food thoroughly. As a result, chunks of food can get caught in the throat or windpipe, causing choking.
- Dementia and Parkinson's Disease: Recent research shows that these conditions reduce the throat muscles' ability to function correctly, causing an increased risk of choking. Even if the nursing home resident has a complete set of teeth and can chew properly, the changes in muscle function can cause food to get stuck in the throat or windpipe.
Choking deaths in nursing homes are also common among residents with neurological disorders (e.g., cerebral palsy) and brain injuries.
How Does Choking Cause Death?
When a piece of food blocks the airway completely, no oxygen can enter the lungs, starving the body of oxygen. Brain cells begin to die within four to six minutes unless the blockage in the throat is dislodged. Permanent brain death can occur in just ten minutes.
Brain death is the irreversible cessation of all brain activity. A brain-dead person is legally considered dead in most countries, including the United States.
Choking is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, affecting children and older adults significantly.
The most serious risk of choking is death from asphyxiation. But even if choking does not result in a resident's death, the victim could suffer significant consequences, such as:
- Throat Irritation: Choking can result in throat irritation as food scratches the throat muscles.
- Throat Damage: Severe choking incidents can cause permanent damage to the throat.
- Malnutrition: Choking victims who experience throat irritation or damage could suffer malnutrition due to pain, difficulty swallowing, and increased fear of eating.
- Aspiration Pneumonia: When a nursing home resident chokes, food or liquid can enter the lungs and cause an infection. Aspiration pneumonia can be fatal, especially for frail older adults.
Potential Choking Hazards in Nursing Homes
Any type of solid food can cause a choking death, but some are more dangerous than others. Hard candy is a common choking risk, which many older people like to eat to stimulate saliva production. Dry food, such as soda crackers and toast, is hazardous because it can get stuck in the throat due to a lack of saliva.
Hard-to-chew foods for the elderly, such as red meats and tough bread, are also potential choking hazards. An elderly person may be unable to chew these foods properly due to jaw fatigue, ill-fitting dentures, missing teeth, and other issues.
All other foods that are the perfect size and shape to get lodged in the throat should be considered choking hazards. These foods include uncut grapes, hotdogs, cherry tomatoes, and more.
Although uncommon, nursing home residents can also choke on medicines and clogged feeding tubes.
Common Causes of Choking Deaths Among Nursing Home Residents
In most cases, resident choking deaths in nursing homes are preventable and often stem from a nursing home's failure to mitigate choking risks.
The following are common causes of nursing home choking fatalities:
- Insufficient Assessment Procedures: Nursing homes conduct admission assessments on all new residents. These resident assessments check each patient's physical (including oral), psychological, and social health to identify their individual needs. Failure to identify a resident's potential choking risks (e.g., a condition causing difficulty swallowing) can result in a choking accident.
- Lack of Supervision: Staff must supervise elderly nursing home residents during mealtimes to ensure they eat and drink correctly. Otherwise, residents may eat too fast, fail to chew food, swallow big chunks of food, or do other things that can lead to a choking episode. Adequate supervision also ensures a fast response (Heimlich maneuver) if choking occurs.
- Rushing Mealtimes: Urging a nursing home resident to eat too fast increases the risk for choking. Unfortunately, some nursing home facilities tolerate this behavior from staff to “save time.”
- Poor Food Preparation: Some residents have dietary restrictions that entail modified meals, such as soft and pureed foods, to make chewing and swallowing easier. Failing to meet these needs increases the risk of choking, especially for residents with swallowing conditions (e.g., dysphagia, esophageal cancer). Similarly, serving food that is too tough, dry, or in the perfect shape for getting stuck in the throat can lead to choking emergencies.
- Improper Feeding Tube Management: When nursing homes or assisted living facilities fail to properly monitor and clean nasogastric feeding tubes, food can get stuck in the tube and cause choking. A clogged tube can be especially dangerous for an at-risk resident.
- Lack of Medication Flexibility: Some nursing home patients have difficulty swallowing pills. If a nursing staff member forces them to take the tablet orally, it could get stuck in the throat and block the airways.
- Inadequate Choking Responses: Nursing homes must have emergency protocols preventing choking deaths. Staff members must know what to do in choking emergencies and how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. A quick response to a choking resident can help prevent permanent brain injury and death.
Seeking Justice for a Nursing Home Choking Death
Losing a loved one to a preventable death is always devastating, especially if a negligent nursing home causes it. If your loved one died from choking in a nursing home, your family has the right to seek justice against everyone involved.
Filing a wrongful death case against the negligent nursing home can help you recover financial compensation for your loved one's death. While no amount of money can ease the pain you're experiencing, a settlement can help take away some of the burdens and allow your family to focus on grieving.
Who is Liable for Choking Deaths in Nursing Facilities?
You may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the staff member who (directly or indirectly) caused your loved one's death. Liable parties can include nursing home staff members who:
- Failed to supervise your loved one despite being a high risk for choking
- Rushed your loved one through mealtimes
- Failed to modify your loved one's food to prevent choking
- Failed to maintain your loved one's feeding tube properly
- Forced your loved one to take a pill despite your loved one's request for another method
- Committed other negligent acts that led to the choking incident
Regardless of who is directly at fault for a resident's death, the nursing home or assisted living facility may be liable for damages for failure to mitigate avoidable harm.
You can file a claim or lawsuit against the nursing home for their failure to:
- Hire properly trained staff
- Train nursing home staff on the Heimlich maneuver and other choking emergency responses
- Ensure proper food preparation to prevent choking hazards
- Implement policies and procedures to avoid choking for at-risk residents, e.g., dementia patients
- Assess elderly residents properly to determine potential choking risk
Evidence You'll Need
First, you must prove that your loved one's death occurred due to the facility's negligence. The following forms of evidence can help:
- An autopsy detailing the manner of the unintentional injury death
- Surveillance footage showing the choking incident if available
- Pre-death medical records
- Nursing home incident reports showing past incidents of choking, if available
- Witness accounts from nursing home staff, visitors, or other residents
You also need to present documents demonstrating the extent of your losses, such as:
- Hospital bills
- Funeral and burial bills
- Family members' testimonies detailing the impact of your loved one's death, financial or otherwise
Compensation For Nursing Home Choking Deaths
Filing a wrongful death claim against a nursing home could help you recover financial compensation for:
- Funeral, burial, and cremation costs
- Pre-death medical treatment
- Loss of love, companionship, nurturing, etc.
- Pain and suffering
- Psychological therapy expenses
If your loved one survives but suffers an injury or illness due to the choking accident, you could file a nursing home abuse claim to recover damages for::
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
How a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Help
Filing a wrongful death or nursing home abuse claim is not easy. You need an experienced lawyer who can help you:
- Investigate how and why the incident happened
- Identify liable parties
- Determine the extent of your losses
- File your claim with the facility's insurance company
- Negotiate a fair settlement value
- File a lawsuit in civil court, if necessary
Talk to Our Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Today
Choking in nursing homes is often a consequence of negligence. Many choking deaths are caused by nursing homes' failure to avoid hazards, train staff members, and address residents' specific needs. Unfortunately, this negligence can cause permanent brain damage, infection, and even death.
Did your loved one suffer a choking-related injury or death in a nursing home? If so, you have the legal right to pursue damages against the people responsible. The attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can help your family recover financial compensation for your loved one's passing, injuries, and other losses.
Contact our lawyers at (800) 926-7565 or use the contact form for a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our attorneys handle all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. This arrangement ensures you don't have to pay for our legal services unless we win your case.