Does the Family of a Deceased Person Who Had Bed Sores at the Time of His Death Have any Legal Recourse Against the Facility Where the Wounds Developed?

Death CertificateIf a bed sore caused or contributed to a person’s death, the victim’s loved ones could have legal recourse against an individual caretaker or facility. Bed sores are preventable with proper care in a hospital or nursing home setting. A death related to a bed sore could be grounds for a wrongful death action against the negligent party. A successful lawsuit could result in financial recovery for the family’s tangible and intangible losses.

Bed Sores and Negligence

Bed sores, or pressure ulcers, are almost always a sign of negligence. It is a caretaker’s duty to understand the risks of pressure ulcers, and to take steps to actively prevent them from forming on a bedridden or wheelchair-ridden patient. Failure to do so could result in undiagnosed bed sores, related health complications, and patient death in the most severe cases.

The elderly, infirm, and disabled are most at risk of developing bed sores. Anyone confined to a bed or wheelchair, who is immobile, who cannot feel pain or discomfort, or who suffers from malnutrition has the highest odds of suffering bed sores. When a nursing home fails to adequately prevent bed sores, it may be guilty of negligence.

If a nursing home resident or hospital patient dies from bed-sore related health complications, the facility could then be liable for wrongful death. A bed sore could be fatal if left untreated. It may progress into a serious infection, or sepsis. It is the facility’s legal duty to prevent and treat bed sores as a prudent and responsible establishment would in the same situation.

How to Prove a Bed Sore Wrongful Death Claim

During a wrongful death claim against a facility for a bed-sore related death, the family pursuing the claim – or their attorney – will have the burden of proving the facility’s negligence. It is up to the person pursing compensation (the plaintiff) to demonstrate to a judge or jury, based on a preponderance of evidence, the facility’s (defendant’s) guilt in causing or contributing to the deceased person’s (decedent’s) death. Proving a wrongful death claim takes three main elements:

  1. The defendant owed the decedent a duty of care. Nursing homes and hospitals, as well as their staff members, owe their residents and patients strict duties of care. Caretakers and physicians must act within a resident or patient’s best interests at all times. The plaintiff’s lawyer may need to prove a doctor-patient, caretaker-patient, or nursing home-resident relationship existed at the time of the bed sore injury and death.
  2. The defendant breached a duty. A breach is any action or omission a reasonable and prudent party would not have made in similar circumstances. Examples of breaches of duty commonly involved in bed sore lawsuits are negligent patient care, failure to diagnose bed sores, unsanitary facility, and nursing home resident abuse or neglect.
  3. The defendant’s actions caused the loved one’s death. The plaintiff’s attorney must show evidence that the defendant’s breach of duty caused or contributed to the decedent’s death. For example, if a nursing home staff member negligently failed to turn a resident, resulting in the formation of bed sores that were ultimately fatal, the facility could be liable for the death. If, however, the resident died from an unrelated terminal illness, the facility may not be responsible.

The plaintiff’s attorney must then show that the defendant’s actions caused the decedent and plaintiff real, compensable damages. These are the same damages for which the plaintiff is seeking financial compensation through the civil suit. They can include medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages, loss of consortium, emotional distress, and mental anguish. Hiring an attorney can make legal recourse for fatal bed sores easier for surviving family members.

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Jonathan did a great job helping my family navigate through a lengthy lawsuit involving my grandmother's death in a nursing home. Through every step of the case, Jonathan kept my family informed of the progression of the case. Although our case eventually settled at a mediation, I really was impressed at how well prepared Jonathan was to take the case to trial. Lisa
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After I read Jonathan’s Nursing Home Blog, I decided to hire him to look into my wife’s treatment at a local nursing home. Jonathan did a great job explaining the process and the laws that apply to nursing homes. I immediately felt at ease and was glad to have him on my side. Though the lawsuit process was at times frustrating, Jonathan reassured me, particularly at my deposition. I really felt like Jonathan cared about my wife’s best interests, and I think that came across to the lawyers for the nursing home. Eric