legal resources necessary to hold negligent facilities accountable.
Nursing Homes Falls
Falls are the most common injury causing accidents in nursing homes. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), about 50% of all 1.6 million nursing home residents in the US fall annually. Of that 50%, one in three people falls twice or more yearly.
Due to frailty and other physical changes that come with the natural aging process, nursing facilities must develop and implement fall prevention strategies to protect vulnerable nursing home residents. Failure to do so could lead to severe consequences, such as fractures, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord trauma.
Did you or a loved one suffer a fall due to nursing home negligence? The personal injury attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can be your legal advocates in pursuing damages against the at-fault facility.
Contact our nursing home abuse lawyers at (800) 926-7565 to schedule a free consultation and learn more about your legal options.How Common Are Nursing Home Falls?
Of the 1.6 million residents in US nursing homes, the AHRQ estimates that about half of them fall yearly. Causes of falls vary, but these accidents often lead to severe consequences, especially among the frail elderly.
Up to one in five residents suffer severe injuries after a fall, and around 1,800 die from fall injuries or complications yearly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, many falls are unreported and undocumented.The Cost of Nursing Home Falls
Aside from putting residents’ health and safety at risk, falls resulting in injuries and complications come at a high cost. In 2015, Medicare expenses for falls were $31 billion. According to the CDC, the cost of treating fall-related injuries will likely increase due to the country’s rapidly growing elderly population.Consequences of Nursing Home Falls
Fall injuries can be devastating for disabled and elderly nursing home residents. Falling can lead to severe injuries, including:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI): A traumatic brain injury occurs when a sudden impact to the head causes the brain to bounce around the skull. Head trauma can range from mild to severe but should always be considered a medical emergency. Common TBIs include concussions, contusions (brain bruises), and hemorrhaging (brain bleeds). A patient with an untreated TBI has an increased risk of complications, such as permanent brain damage and death.
- Fractures: Broken bones are common in falls among older adults, especially in residential healthcare facilities. Of all the fracture types, hip fractures (also known as pelvic fractures) are the most dangerous for the elderly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010 saw over 258,000 hospital admissions among patients 65 and older, and the number is expected to increase by 12% in 2030.
- Spinal Cord Trauma: The spinal column and its components transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. A moderate to severe fall can damage the spinal cord, which, in turn, can lead to severe complications, such as paralysis.
- Bruises and Lacerations: Nursing home falls can also lead to less severe injuries, such as bruises and cuts. Nevertheless, they can cause significant pain and discomfort to older adults.
- Soft Tissue Injuries: Residents can stretch or tear their muscles, ligaments, or tendons during a fall, causing sprains or strains. While these injuries are rarely serious, they can be significantly painful for frail residents.
Falls don’t just cause serious injury to patients. These accidents can also lead to:
- Fear of Falling: Patients who fall may develop a fear of falling again, which can cause a self-imposed limitation on activities. This fear can lead to loneliness, social isolation, lack of physical activity, and other consequences that can cause other problems. For instance, a fall victim could be more susceptible to nursing home injuries due to a lack of mobility, which reduces muscle strength.
- Functional Decline: Fall injuries can lead to mobility issues or disabilities, reducing a patient’s ability to function. Nursing home residents who suffer physical injuries often require daily living assistance as they cannot independently eat, drink, bathe, dress, and do other essential activities.
- Reduced Quality of Life: A combination of physical and psychological consequences can reduce a resident’s quality of life following a fall. A lack of independence can speed up these negative changes even further.
- Mental Health Problems: Reduced quality of life, pain, functional decline, and other factors can increase a resident’s risk of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness.
Lastly, a fall injury increases a patient’s risk of death due to complications or a second fall.Risk Factors for Falls
Older adults are more susceptible to falls due to the physical and mental changes they undergo during aging. The natural aging process reduces one’s gait, balance, and strength, increasing the risk of accidents. Furthermore, older bodies are more vulnerable to fall-related injuries due to several intrinsic factors, such as reduced bone density and muscle strength.
In addition, falls cause more severe consequences for the elderly because older people have weaker immune systems and slower healing abilities.
Elderly residents must undergo a fall risk assessment to identify those at a higher risk of falls. Risk factors of falls in nursing homes include:
- Advanced Age: Adults 75 and older have the highest rate of nursing home falls.
- History of Falls: Residents with past falls are more likely to fall again.
- Mobility Issues: Patients with medical conditions affecting balance, strength, and gait have an increased risk of falling, as are those who use assistive devices (e.g., walkers) and have visual impairments.
- Psychological and Cognitive Impairments: Reduced cognitive functioning and psychological disorders can affect a patient’s temperament, decision-making, and mental state, increasing the risk of falls.
- Medications: Certain medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness, balance problems, and other side effects that increase fall risk. These medications include but are not limited to antihistamines, sedatives, antidepressants, and psychotropics.
- Poor Continence: Frequent trips to the bathroom can increase patient falls.
- Medical Equipment: Medical devices, such as IVs, ventilation equipment, and chest tubes, can trip residents and cause falls.
According to the CDC, elderly falls occur more frequently in nursing homes and assisted living facilities due to the following:
- Advanced Ages and Medical Conditions of Residents: Falls in nursing homes are more frequent than falls in residential or community settings, primarily because nursing home residents are usually older, frailer, and suffer from more medical conditions than elderly people living at home.
- Environmental Hazards: Accident-causing hazards, such as poor lighting, slippery floors, and improper bed heights, are more present in long-term care facilities. Furthermore, these issues are more common in underfunded and understaffed homes.
- Medications: Most nursing home patients take at least one medication. Drugs that affect the central nervous system, such as antidepressants and sedatives, cause a significant portion of falls by reducing patients’ balance, strength, coordination, and alertness.
- Lack of Supervision and Assistance: Staff members must provide adequate supervision to prevent residents from falling. Otherwise, residents may attempt to ambulate independently, increasing the risk of falls. Moreover, residents must receive sufficient and timely assistance for eating, bathing, toileting, and other daily activities, lest they try to do so without help. Unfortunately, many facilities lack the nursing staff to significantly reduce falls.
All nursing homes must develop and implement fall prevention measures to protect residents from serious injury and death. Below are compiled clinical practice guidelines and recommendations for fall prevention from several studies, surveys, and randomized controlled trials:
- Risk Assessments: Every nursing home resident must undergo a fall risk assessment. Then, the facility must create fall reduction plans for patients with an increased risk of falling.
- Incontinence Care: Patients with incontinence problems have difficulty controlling their urinary and bowel movements. They often require continence products, such as adult diapers, urinary catheters, and bed pads, to increase comfort and prevent infections. Care providers must provide incontinent patients with adequate support to prevent them from going to the bathroom alone and risking falls.
- Disease Management: Some conditions can put the elderly at a higher risk of falling, particularly those that affect balance, strength, and coordination, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. Nursing facilities should sufficiently identify and manage these conditions to prevent falls.
- Medication Management: Patients taking drugs that affect the central nervous system should receive a higher level of supervision to ensure they don’t move around without assistance and potentially hurt themselves. Furthermore, a nursing facility should find alternatives to medications that increase the risk of falls whenever possible.
- Physical Activity: Physical therapy and exercise programs can help reduce nursing home falls by improving patients’ strength, balance, walking ability, and other physical functions. Exercise can also prevent deconditioning (functional losses resulting from a sedentary lifestyle).
- Nursing Home Modifications: A fall prevention program should include provisions that help avoid falls, such as grab bars, bed rails, and walk-in bathtubs. Beds, chairs, and toilet seats must also be at the proper height to prevent patients from losing their balance. Furthermore, a nursing home should address extrinsic environmental factors, such as uneven floors, inadequate lighting, clutter, defective wheelchairs, etc.
- Personal Alarms: Residents with a greater risk of falling should have the means to alert staff when they fall, such as wearable devices or call buttons.
- Patient Education: Teaching residents about falls and the common injuries they cause can help them better protect themselves.
- Staff Training: Nursing home staff members should receive proper and recurring training for fall prevention.
- Supervision: Staff must perform routine checks on residents with physical or cognitive impairments and provide adequate assistance when necessary. Additionally, developing routines, such as scheduling bathroom trips or exercises, is beneficial for incredibly frail or incontinent patients. These patients should be placed near nursing stations to make supervision more effective and manageable.
- Emergency Procedures: Employees must know what to do when a patient falls and should have enough tools and equipment to provide emergency treatment.
The following tools, devices, and equipment can supplement fall prevention strategies in nursing facilities:
- Bed alarms
- Low beds and toilet seats
- Bed rails
- Grab bars near toilets, showers, and bathtubs
- Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and walkers
- Hip protectors to prevent hip fractures
- Non-slip mats
- Floor cushions
In addition to the fall reduction strategies above, the CDC recommends promoting a “culture of safety” to help implement an effective fall prevention program and reduce injuries. Developing this culture requires changes in staff attitudes, beliefs, and management styles and more efficient communication between staff members.
A nursing home should have a strong leadership team to identify risks, address areas for improvement, and encourage each staff member to participate in all care levels. Furthermore, a nursing home should have a "no blame/no shame" atmosphere to open an environment where employees can report concerns without fear of punishment.
Finally, a nursing home must measure the effectiveness of its fall reduction policies and strategies through regular surveys and performance evaluations. Doing so can help nursing administration identify ineffective strategies, potential safety concerns, and staff problems that must be addressed.Fall Reduction Committee
A fall prevention program requires a committee dedicated to preventing falls. According to the CDC, a successful program needs an interdisciplinary team with the following members:
- Fall Nurse Coordinator: Responsible for implementing the program and coordinating steps, such as risk screening, staff education, and strategy development.
- Fall Nursing Assistants: Inspects the facility’s environment for hazards and inspect equipment that helps prevent nursing home falls.
- Fall Therapist: Helps assess patient transfers, mobility needs, and assistance requirements.
- Falls Engineer: Responsible for inspecting, repairing, and modifying fall prevention equipment and the nursing home environment.
An administrator such as the Director of Nursing may join the fall prevention team to oversee the program’s progress and provide input.
The AHRQ portal has more information on strategies, policies, and recommendations for preventing falls in long-term care facilities.Negligence Significantly Contributes to Nursing Home Falls
Elderly and disabled residents in nursing homes are inherently at risk of falls. Therefore, each nursing home is legally obligated to prevent these accidents by complying with professional standards set by the medical community.
Unfortunately, nursing home falls are common because many facilities fail to meet these standards.
If you or a loved one suffer a fall in a nursing home, the facility could be negligent if the accident was caused by:
- Failure to create and implement fall reduction strategies
- Lack of or defective bed alarms, handrails, mobility aids, and other tools or equipment needed to prevent nursing home falls
- Poor nursing practice, e.g., inadequate supervision or continence care
- Unaddressed environmental hazards, e.g., poor lighting, cluttered walkways, slippery floors
- Poor medication or disease management
- Use of physical or chemical restraints without a medical reason
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Failure to act quickly when a resident falls
If a resident falls because of nursing home negligence, the facility could be liable for damages to the victims and their families. You can hold a nursing home responsible for you or your loved one’s injuries if you prove they failed to reduce falls within reason.
You can file a claim or lawsuit against a nursing home or have an attorney do it on your behalf. Either way, taking legal action against a negligent facility could help you seek justice for the harm it has caused.What Damages Can You Recover With a Nursing Home Abuse Claim?
Failure to prevent nursing home falls could make a facility liable for the following economic and non-economic damages:
- Medical Bills: Out-of-pocket expenses for emergency transportation, hospitalization, medication, surgery, therapy, and other treatments or procedures necessary.
- Disability: Mobility aids, physical rehabilitation, and other related costs of reduced functionality due to debilitating injuries related to falls, such as hip fractures.
- Pain and Suffering: Financial compensation for physical and emotional harm caused by the fall, such as physical pain, mental anguish, emotional trauma.
- Lost Wages: Income and benefits lost by family members while caring for an injured loved one.
- Loss of Quality of Life: Financial compensation for quality or enjoyment of life lost by the victim due to the fall, e.g., reduced independence, chronic pain, social isolation.
- Scarring and Disfigurement: Surgery, emotional anguish, physical pain, and other damages related to scarring and disfigurement caused by a fall.
- Wrongful Death: Funeral, burial, cremation expenses, pre-death medical bills, loss of consortium, and other related damages if your loved one dies due to the fall or its complications.
You can recover compensation from a negligent nursing home facility through an insurance claim or civil lawsuit. In the first option, you or your attorney will file a claim with the facility’s liability insurance provider to seek a settlement.
Most nursing home falls end in settlements (legal agreements wherein the defendant agrees to pay a certain amount to the plaintiff in exchange for not going to court) to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. Your nursing home attorney will negotiate with the insurance provider to ensure you receive a fair settlement.
However, your case may proceed to litigation if the insurance company refuses to make a fair offer or negotiations have stalled. If this happens, a judge or jury will hear evidence from you and the defense party to determine a verdict. Both parties can win or lose the case, meaning there is a possibility of not receiving sufficient compensation--or any at all.
Our nursing home abuse attorneys will determine the best legal action for your case and serve as your representatives every step of the way.How Can You Prove Nursing Home Falls?
Every nursing home is legally responsible for preventing falls among residents. Unfortunately, not every facility meets this obligation within set standards. You can prove a nursing home’s negligence by presenting the following evidence:
- Medical records highlighting conditions or medications that increase the risk of falls
- Records and photos proving injuries, such as broken bones, TBIs, soft tissue injuries, etc.
- Video or photo evidence showing staff members’ negligence, e.g., absence of a nursing aid
- Witness testimonies from employees, family members, visitors, or other residents
- Expert testimony
- Victim’s account of the accident
The average older adult is inherently more at risk of falls, requiring adequate care, attention, and assistance, especially in a nursing home setting. Sadly, falls in nursing homes are extremely common, primarily due to the negligence of employees and administrators.
Falls can cause severe injuries and even death. If you or a loved one suffered a fall in a nursing facility, the attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, could help you pursue justice. Our experienced lawyers help victims recover fair financial compensation from negligent parties and hold at-fault nursing homes accountable for their actions.
Contact our attorneys at (800) 926-7565 or use the contact form for a free consultation. All sensitive or confidential information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our nursing home abuse attorneys handle accepted fall cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you don’t have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.Resources: