One of the most common way nursing home residents get injured is due to falls. Nursing home falls can cause fractures, spine injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and even death. But can you hold a nursing home liable when your loved one suffers an injury from a fall?
The Law About Nursing Home Fall Injuries
In Alabama, there is a special set of laws that apply to any personal injury claim against a healthcare provider. This set of laws is called the Alabama Medical Liability Act (“AMLA”).
Under the AMLA, to win a case against a nursing home, you must prove the nursing home violated the “standard of care.” But how do you prove the nursing home violated the standard of care and caused your loved one to get hurt?
The “Minimum Data Set” Assessment
At the time of admission to the nursing home, nursing homes must take appropriate measures to assess a resident’s risk of suffering falls. Federal regulations require nursing homes to compile a “Minimum Data Set” (MDS) which is a standardized assessment of a nursing home resident’s needs, health conditions, and limitations.
Part of the MDS includes assessing a resident’s risk of suffering a fall. Some relevant factors include:
- history of prior falls
- vision deficits
- mobility deficits
- medications impacting cognition and balance
- incontinence or urinary frequency
For example, if a nursing home resident has had prior falls, has poor vision, walks with an unsteady gait, takes medication that can cause dizziness, and has a frequent need to urinate, that resident will have a significant “fall risk.”
Plan of Care
Once the Minimum Data Set is completed, the nursing home is required by law to develop a “plan of care.” A plan of care includes:
- What kind of personal or health care services the resident needs
- What type of staff should give these services
- How often the resident need the services
- What kind of equipment or supplies the resident needs (like a wheelchair or feeding tube)
- What kind of diet needed (if you need a special one) and your food preferences
- Interventions needed to prevent injuries
If a nursing home resident is at risk for falls, the nursing home must develop a plan of care that includes measures to prevent injuries from falls.
Fall Prevention Measures
There are numerous fall prevention measures nursing homes can implement. Which measures are used depends on the resident’s fall risk score, which is determined by the MDS. Here are common fall prevention measures that should be implemented for residents who are significant fall risks:
- slip resistant footwear
- toileting schedule (many falls occur on the way to the bathroom)
- a nightlight
- putting a “call button” within reach of the resident
- educating the resident about asking for assistance
- ensuring the floor is free of tripping hazards
- fall pads on the floor next to the bed
- bed/chair alarms
- putting the resident in a room close to the nurses’ station
Ways a Nursing Home Violates the Standard of Care
In cases with nursing home falls, the standard of care violation likely occurred in one of four ways:
- Failing to do an accurate Minimum Data Set
- Failing to develop an appropriate Plan of Care
- Failing to put in place adequate fall prevention measures
- Failing to ensure that the fall prevention measures are continually in place
How We Review Nursing Home Fall Cases
First, we obtain the nursing home medical records. We are looking to determine whether an appropriate MDS and Plan of Care were completed. We then also review the records to determine whether appropriate fall prevention measures were implemented.
Then, if there is enough evidence that a violation of the standard of care occurred, we retain a nursing home expert witness. The AMLA requires an expert witness to testify that the nursing home violated the standard of care.
If a nursing home expert agrees there was a violation of the standard of care, we proceed with filing a nursing home negligence lawsuit.
If your loved one has been injured or has died to a fall in a nursing home, let us get to work for you. We do not charge any fees to review the case, and are only paid a contingency fee if we win a settlement or verdict.