legal resources necessary to hold negligent facilities accountable.
Nursing Home Choking Injury Lawyers
Nearly every choking accident in a nursing facility is avoidable when the staff follows procedures and protocols. Many accidents result from a lack of supervision or proper care levels for residents with a high risk for choking.
Nursing staff members must follow the patient's care plan and develop interventions to prevent choking involving residents with swallowing difficulties. In some cases, when the staff spots a resident choking, it might be too late to either save their life or prevent a permanent injury.
The Nursing Home Choking Accident Attorney Can Help
The personal injury attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center LLC have years of experience holding nursing homes legally accountable for any injuries or wrongful deaths caused by their negligence. Some of our cases involve choking incidents related to improperly filed dietary restrictions and clogged breathing tubes.
Unfortunately, facilities sometimes failed to provide their residents with the proper care they require if your loved one was injured. Contact us now to discuss what happened during a free case evaluation.
Nursing Home Choking Accident Injuries FAQs
What to Do If a Resident Is Choking?
According to the National Safety Council, a mild choking event might be stopped by the older child or adult victim coughing or spitting out what is caught in their throat. However, severe choking events require an assisting abdominal thrust or back blow when the victim cannot breathe, cough, cry, or speak.
Severe choking events require assistance for choking victims two years and older that include:
- Standing behind the victim and slightly to the side, use one hand to support their chest while leaning them forward
- Apply five sharp blows using the heel of the hand between the victim shoulder blades
- Check to see if you have cleared the blockage
- If the blockage remains, apply five abdominal thrusts
Why Are Older Persons at Risk for Choking?
Compared to young adults, senior citizens produce less saliva during the aging process, making swallowing and chewing more challenging. Many elderly individuals suffer from dental issues, including poorly fitted dentures, making breaking down food more difficult.
According to the National Safety Council, thousands of people, especially those seventy-five years and older, die from choking events every year. A severe choking event could cause permanent brain death in as little as ten minutes when a foreign object blocks the airway.
How Likely Are You to Die from Choking?
According to the National Security Council, thousands of individuals die every year in choking events. In 2015, over 5000 individuals succumbed during choking events, and over half of those were seventy-five years and older.
Some of these lives could have been saved had others around performed the Heimlich maneuver where abdominal thrusts could dislodge objects from the throat and prevent suffocation.
What Behaviors Put a Person at Risk for Choking?
Specific behaviors, mostly by the young and old, including poor eating habits, might increase choking risks. These behaviors include:
- Eating too quickly
- Standing while eating and drinking
- Consuming food from a prone position
- Not chewing correctly before swallowing
Other contributing risk factors to choking include old age, especially individuals with ill-fitting dentures or missing teeth, neurological illnesses, throat injuries, anatomical genetic abnormalities, and esophageal disorders caused by chronic acid reflux.
What Happens When an Elderly Person Cannot Swallow?
Senior citizens are more likely to suffer injuries or death from a choking event when consuming food and liquids. Some elderly individuals suffer from dysphagia, a debilitating symptomatic disease that causes difficulty when swallowing.
Swallowing disorders could lead to dehydration, malnutrition, loss of appetite, and aspiration pneumonia. Many symptoms associated with dysphasia include drooling, difficulty consuming averages and swallowing food, loud gurgle sounds when speaking after drinking or eating, coughing while drinking or eating, choking on medications, liquids, and food.
What Is a Swallow Test for the Elderly?
According to Johns Hopkins Hospital, health care providers could assess a patient's risk for aspiration and dysphasia using a swallow exam. The doctor will ask the patient to describe their symptoms and perform a comprehensive physical examination of the neck and mouth muscles used to swallow.
The patient usually undergoing a bedside swallow examination have specific health issues or medical conditions that could include:
- Mouth sores
- Muscular dystrophy
- Significant dental problems
- Sjogren's syndrome and other health problems that decrease saliva production
- Neurological conditions like Parkinson's disease
- Esophageal blockages caused her medical conditions like cancer
Some patients undergoing a swallow exam will suffer from specific breathing problems, intense pain or challenges when eating, and food getting stuck in the throat when swallowing.
Some Elderly Residents Have Trouble Swallowing
Elderly or infirm patients will often have difficulty swallowing. Many nursing home residents suffer from Presbyphagia, a naturally occurring condition as a resident grows older.
In general, swallowing will occur more slowly as a person ages. At the same time, the opening of the upper esophageal sphincter diminishes, making swallowing more difficult. The muscles that facilitate swallowing weaken with age.
Choking accidents are the fourth-leading cause of accidental death among nursing home residents. Other medical conditions can place a resident at increased risk for choking. For example, the resident could have suffered a stroke.
When that occurs, the resident could lose muscle control and be unable to swallow without help. The resident could have other neurological damage that makes it difficult for the brain to communicate with the muscles.
In general, Nine in ten patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease experience challenged swallowing. Beyond stroke damage and other neurological conditions, there are various other ways that a nursing home resident could asphyxiate.
Nearly all cases involve nursing home negligence or lack of supervision on the part of the home staff.
The Choking Dangers in Dining Room
The dining room at skilled nursing facilities requires a great deal of supervision. Residents need varying levels of assistance when it comes to eating. Some residents need to have their food cut and fed to them.
However, there are many descriptions in the reports of nursing inspections that detail situations in which a small amount of staff are sitting in the dining room while the residents are left to fend for themselves.
Some reports even describe the staff texting on their phones while the residents struggle to eat. In those situations, residents are a high risk for a nursing home choking accident.
Often, this results from a lack of adequate staff as the facility cuts the staff level to a bare minimum to keep profit levels high.
Some choking occurrences resulted while the staff was not present when the resident began choking. Choking could also lead to brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. When the care facility realized the resident's distress, it was too late to save them from brain injury or death.
All staff members must be professionally trained in how to save a choking resident. Caregivers might attempt shortcuts to save money, such as not professionally training their staff.
When a resident is choking, nursing staff cannot waste time to find someone who knows how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. Many choking deaths could be avoided if the first staff member to respond had performed the Heimlich maneuver to clear the airway.
Staffing problems, including negligence and carelessness, have led to severe injuries and wrongful death when meals were left in the resident's room. Not every resident can eat independently due to underlying medical conditions, including dysphagia, Parkinson's disease, neurological disorders, or muscular dystrophy.
When a resident with Presbyphagia or other neurological damage eats on their own in their bed, their choking risk increases when food becomes lodged in their windpipe or esophagus.
SNFs Dietary Obligations to Protect Patients
Skilled nursing facilities (SNF) are obligated to tailor a resident's diet to their individual needs to avoid malnutrition and maximize their health. The staff must assess the resident when they first enter the SNF and routinely update their medical record and Care Plan.
Then, the diet must be designed to accommodate the individual resident during all mealtimes. The care plan must consider the resident's ability to chew food. Some diets might consist of pureed food because the resident is not able to chew safely.
Other diets come with directions that a staff member must cut the resident's food into small pieces or feed them.
Failing to act quickly to avoid choking hazards could have consequences for the facility on multiple levels. The federal government's inspectors will ensure the facility complies with diet and nutrition, proper diet, and supervision guidelines.
Inspectors identifying noncompliance can cite the facility claiming nursing home neglect. The home will face a fine and a possible suspension from the Medicare and Medicaid programs if a resident is harmed through negligence or abuse.
Nursing home abuse lawyers might hold the facility civilly liable for harming their client. In most cases, this will mean a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the nursing facility.
Sample Lawsuits & Settlements Against Nursing Homes for Patient Choking & Wrongful Death
Here are some instances in which a facility has been successfully sued for choking injuries sustained by residents.
Jury Award in 2016 for $1 million (New York) – A nurse forgot to put an eighty-two-year-old resident’s dentures in his mouth before feeding him a sandwich. The man's diet dictated that he was only fed pureed food and not solid foods like sandwiches.
The resident choked to death within minutes. The New York facility accepted liability for his death. After the family was awarded damages, the facility sued the family for unpaid fees from the man's residency.
Settlement in 2017 for $875,000 (Illinois) – The resident suffered from a condition that made him more prone to choking. His doctors ordered that he be fed a diet consisting only of "mechanical soft food" while being supervised.
The Illinois facility failed to follow the doctor's orders when the nurse left the resident to eat his food alone. He choked and died.
Before his death, the resident attempted to hit the call button to get help while choking. However, the staff never responded. When he finally received attention, the CNA failed to perform the Heimlich maneuver correctly.
Lawsuit Filed in New York (2018) – A nonverbal-special needs patient could not eat without assistance, where the staff would cut his food into small pieces. On one occasion, the staff fed him a large meatball while failing to supervise him or cutting large pieces into small pieces.
The staff also failed to provide the resident with the appropriate intervention and care when he was choking, leading to severe brain damage. He died eight days later from his serious injuries.
Settlement for $215,000 in Pennsylvania (2017) – The resident eating breakfast began to choke and slumped over in his wheelchair. However, the staff failed to notice.
Later the staff on the resident without a pulse and discolored. Afterward, the emergency responders removed a large piece of food from his throat. The resident died from his injuries.
The plaintiff’s lawsuit focused solely on the staff's response, or lack thereof, proving the staff never fed him his meal, which caused him to choke. The Pennsylvania facility allegedly did not have a crash cart in the dining room, which further impeded any attempts to save the resident during the choking event.
Settlement for $962,500 in Massachusetts (2017) – The resident’s family was never notified of two previous choking events but did know that he requires assistance and supervision to eat safely. On one occasion, the resident was left unsupervised while eating when a large piece of meat lodged in his throat, causing him to choke.
The nursing home staff was not able to successfully perform the Heimlich. The lawsuit alleged that the Massachusetts facility needed to have a heightened level of care, or at the minimum, follow the care plan since he had the two prior incidents.
Was Your Loved One Involved in a Choking Accident in a Nursing Home? Speak to a Personal Injury Attorney Now
Did your loved one have a choking event and suffered injury or death at a nursing facility? If so, you likely have the right to seek legal action for the avoidable injury. If your loved one has choked and suffered injury or death at a facility, it could very well have been an avoidable injury.
The nursing home abuse attorneys at the Nursing Home Law Center can help you investigate what occurred with the choking event that injured your loved one to seek financial compensation.
Contact our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation. All discussions with our law firm remain confidential through an attorney-client relationship.
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