Nursing home abuse is an epidemic across the country, including in Chicago: over 50% of nursing home staff admit to engaging in at least one form of abuse toward residents, and that number may be vastly underestimating the scope of the problem.
The World Health Organization notes that the most common form of abuse in nursing homes is psychological abuse, which is particularly hard to identify because it leaves no physical signs; other common forms include neglect, physical assault, improper restraints, and theft.
If your elderly parent or other relative has been mistreated in a nursing home, you will understandably want justice, but you may not be familiar with the legal system or know what to expect from a personal injury lawsuit. In this article, we will discuss some of the steps involved in going to trial for nursing home abuse, from the first consultation to the final appeal.
The process begins when you consult with a personal injury law firm:
When you decide to pursue action against the nursing home, you should contact law firm with a proven track record in successful nursing home abuse lawsuits, as they will be most familiar with what evidence to gather, the types of experts to consult, and how to prove the allegations of abuse. They will discuss the case with you, determine whether you have a viable lawsuit, and begin gathering evidence to file the complaint.
Your attorney will investigate the claim with the help of experts:
Evidence for a nursing home abuse lawsuit can take a variety of forms, but the most common ones are medical records, staff reports, footage from the nursing home, and sworn affidavits from involved parties. The law firm will also consult with experts in geriatric care and nursing home management to identify deficiencies in the facility’s standard of care.
With all this in hand, your lawyer will file a complaint against the nursing home:
This complaint is a legal document outlining the allegations, the evidence, and the requested compensation. The lawyer will identify who is the defendant – in other words, who you’re suing – as well as the specific damages that will be pursued. For example, if you will be suing to have your loved one’s medical bills paid, it will include the specifics of those damages.
Both parties will now exchange information:
The exchange of information is called the discovery process; it ensures that the nursing home understands the allegations against them and has the same information that your lawyer does. This is an essential part of the American legal system, and it prevents defendants or plaintiffs from being ambushed by bombshell evidence at the trial which they can’t prepare for.
Your lawyer will likely attempt to settle with the facility before going to trial:
Most personal injury lawsuits involve some negotiation before going to trial; this is the preferred outcome for both parties, because it prevents an expensive legal battle. For nursing homes, settling out of court can prevent bad press, because the particulars of the settlement will not be publicly available for everyone to learn about. On your side, avoiding a lawsuit can reduce the stress on your elderly loved one, who is still recovering from the physical and emotional trauma related to the abuse.
Getting this situation handled as quickly and efficiently as possible is advantageous for everyone, but it doesn’t always work out. Often, nursing homes will refuse to accept a fair settlement, and your lawyer will advise going to trial to ensure that you are reasonably compensated for your loved one’s pain and suffering.
The trial will involve your lawyer proving wrongdoing by the facility:
It’s important to note that civil lawsuits do not have as stringent a burden of proof as criminal cases: your attorney only needs to provide what is called a “preponderance of evidence” rather than needing to convince the jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why it’s so important that you pick a great law firm with experience in proving these types of cases, as they will be able to identify and present the correct evidence to prove your claims.
If your lawyer is successful, the judge will determine a suitable settlement:
After all the evidence has been presented, the jury will deliberate and return a verdict of guilty or not guilty. There may be several counts, and each of them may have a different outcome; your lawyer will explain the exact particulars of the verdict to you before and after the end of the trial. In the case of a victory, the judge will use settlement schedules to decide upon a fair settlement amount, taking into account the requests of your lawyer and the components of the case.
Regardless of the outcome, you should note that either party can appeal the verdict, which would mean you will go through the appeals court to determine whether or not the original trial’s verdict was correct.
It’s a complicated process, but a lawsuit is worth it to receive justice for your loved one:
While a settlement will help provide for your loved one, including paying their medical bills and helping secure them a spot in a better nursing facility, it’s important to consider one more essential element of a nursing home abuse lawsuit: that you’re shining a light on the injustices of that facility, which can help protect other residents too.
After facing legal action, a nursing home may change policies to prevent further abuse, or fire staff found liable. Regardless of the outcome, you are truly changing lives by stepping up and speaking out against this injustice, so never hesitate to reach out to a qualified nursing home abuse lawyer to advocate for your loved one.