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Nursing Home Wandering & Elopement Attorneys

Lawyers for Nursing Home Patients Injured or Killed When They Wander From a Facility

nursing home wandering & elopement attorneysNursing homes have many different obligations when it comes to caring for their residents. Besides the obvious duties to provide medical care, assistance with daily activities and food and nutrition, there are certain basic obligations that should be self-evident, but bear repeating. Nursing home staff have a duty to protect their residents from any type of serious injury.

In some instances, nursing home residents resist being confined to the care of another in a defined space. Oftentimes, they are suffering from cognitive impairment (such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia) and have an idea that they want to be elsewhere. When that happens, these residents may elope from the nursing home facility. When nursing home residents are on their own, they are vulnerable to many different things. For example:

  • There have been cases where residents have wandered and have frozen to death. Often, when a resident wanders, it is either at night or during times of adverse weather conditions or both. It does not take long for a resident exposed to the cold to develop hypothermia.
  • Residents who wander are physically vulnerable. They can be subject to mistreatment and assault outside the facility, including sexual assault and robbery.
  • Many residents are found on the side of the road when they have eloped. There is the obvious danger that disoriented residents can be hit by cars when walking in the street or crossing it.
  • When residents are outside of the facility, they do not receive their necessary medical treatments or medications. Certain medical conditions can endanger the resident’s life if it is not regularly treated and even one dose of many medications is critical to survival. At the same time, if the resident is not receiving hygienic help for a period of time, it can lead to infection. For example, if a resident has developed a pressure ulcer and has left the facility, the regular cleaning, and wound treatment is vital to prevent infection.
  • Residents who leave the safety of the facility increase their risk of falls when they leave the safer environment of the nursing facility which should have many hazards removed. Falls will lead to a higher risk of fracture.

Nursing homes have many different obligations in this regards. This is an area where, if something goes wrong, the nursing facility will likely face significant consequences. When elderly people have eloped from the nursing facility, the state and federal regulators will usually treat it as a regulatory violation that has involved actual harm to the resident. This is important because it means that there will be some sort of a penalty assessed against that skilled nursing facility. This is an area where regulators view any violations with particular severity.

Why Does Elopement Happen with Cognitively Impaired Patients?

Elopement is more prevalent in individuals who are cognitively impaired or have alzheimer's disease. One of the symptoms that they have, if they are mobile, is that they will excessively ambulate. They do this in order to fill some sort of need. This could happen because they have a need for more stimulation or even for a physical reason, such as they need to urinate. Sometimes, a disoriented resident will have an urge to “just go home” that they feel they need to satisfy. Finally, there could be some kind of physical discomfort that will cause the resident to leave the facility.

Some Statistics About Patient Wandering

It is estimated that approximately one in three nursing home residents who have dementia will leave the facility at least once during the time of their residency at the facility. The same residents who leave once may have a propensity to engage in the behavior. Leaving the safety of a facility presents a significant danger to the resident. If the resident is not located within the first 24 hours, there is approximately a 25 percent chance that they will not survive. This is due to the many risks that were described above.

How Is Wandering the Fault of the Skilled Nursing Facility?

One of the main reasons that residents are able to elope from the facility is because the nursing facility has been negligent in some way. Here are some of the ways that nursing homes can fail to uphold their duty to care for the residents when it comes to patients leaving the facility.

  • Nursing homes have the obligation to assess a resident’s risk of leaving the facility. If they have deemed the resident to be a risk of elopement, they must take measures to protect the resident and prevent them from leaving the facility. These measures need to be strengthened and updated if the resident has left once and been returned to the facility.
  • Nursing homes often have an inadequate number of staff members to provide the necessary amount of care and supervision to the residents. They do this in order to maintain or enhance their profitability. Unfortunately, this means that the residents are not always well cared for and supervised. When residents have wandered, it often is the result of a lack of staff members to watch them.
  • The home staff may have lost track of the resident and not even realized that they were missing. The immediate time after a resident has eloped is critical to locate the resident. The further that they get from the facility, the more difficult it will be to find them. The resident may become more disoriented if they miss a dose of medication. As such, nursing homes may take insufficient measures to find residents who have wandered.
  • Sometimes nursing homes are negligent in that they leave certain doors unlocked, which makes it easier for a resident to exit the facility. Either that or they do not adequately watch the exits from the facility. Nearly all elopement cases involve residents who either left through the front door or a side exit with the door unlocked.
Sample Lawsuits and Settlements Against Long-Term Care Facilities

The nursing facility's potential liability begins the moment that the resident has exited the facility on their own. Even if a third party did something to a resident, the home will be the party that is liable to the resident and their family. Not only could this result in civil liability for the facility, but there is also the potential that staff could be criminally charged.

One of the key factors in assessing negligence is whether a facility knew or should have known that the elderly resident had a propensity to leave the facility. A facility will have to show the steps that it took to assess the resident’s risk and the measures that they took to prevent elopement. Below are some instances of nursing home abuse lawsuits that have been filed against facilities for patient injuries.

Settlement for $875,000 in Michigan (2018) – The resident was a known risk of elopement and the facility was well aware that he had the ability to leave the facility. He left the facility in his wheelchair unnoticed through a broken and unlocked door. He left the facility in the middle of a freezing night and was found dead in a dumpster the next morning with his limbs froze. The lawsuit alleged that the facility was negligent in both letting him exit the facility and delaying the search for him. For more information on Michigan nursing homes, look here.

Lawsuit Filed in Pennsylvania (2019) – The resident had a known tendency to roam, even before they were admitted to the nursing facility. The resident left the PA home one night and there is a video of her walking around disoriented. According to the lawsuit, she triggered alarms when she left the facility, but the staff ignored them. The resident suffered a head injury when she fell off a retaining wall. She fell two stories onto concrete and died from her injuries. She was not wearing a Wander Guard bracelet when she left the facility.

Lawsuit Filed in Washington (2017) – The resident had a history of delusions and the family believes that he was a known roaming risk. The resident left the facility and 10 PM one night and was seen near the front door of the facility. The staff did not allegedly check his room or conduct a thorough search when it was discovered that he disappeared. He was found lying down in the parking lot. He had suffered injury from the cold and was hospitalized. He was sent back to the nursing facility and died the next day.

Settlement for $1 million in California (2006) – The resident had Alzheimer’s and the family had chosen the facility based on their belief that it could protect their family member. The resident left the facility and entered a mobile home park, where they fell. The resident contracted pneumonia from being outside, which was the cause of death. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the home did not have adequate staff to monitor and keep the resident inside the premises. For more information on California nursing homes, look here.

Jury Verdict for $2 million in New York (2006) – The resident left the facility and went back to a former place of residence where he had lived 20 years ago. At the time, he was suffering from renal failure and needed dialysis. He was found ill in the building to which he had wandered. In addition to alleging that the NY home was negligent in allowing the resident to wander, it also claimed that the home failed to administer his medications.

Has Your Family Member Been Injured After Leaving a Nursing Home? Get Legal Help Now

Wandering is, unfortunately, a common cause of nursing home injuries and the attorneys at the Nursing Home Law Center have experience in filing claims against skilled nursing facilities when this has happened and residents have gotten hurt. Contact us to discuss your case with us and we can let you know whether we believe you have a viable cause of action for financial compensation and the process that would need to be followed in order for your family to receive compensation. You can reach out to us online or call us at (800) 726-9565.

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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
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