Rehabilitation centers, including physical rehab centers, nursing homes, and detox facilities, can often be the targets of civil lawsuits for malpractice and negligence.
The World Health Organization estimates that one in six seniors in “community care settings” such as nursing homes suffer from elder abuse. Drug rehab centers and physical therapy facilities have also been on the receiving end of neglect and malpractice claims. If you or a member of your family have suffered from mistreatment in a rehabilitation center, you may be able to claim damages successfully.
This page provides an overview of some common forms of neglect and abuse in rehab clinics, including a real-life case study, and gives you some insight into how a malpractice attorney might handle a rehab negligence claim.
Risks of Negligence and Abuse in Rehabilitation Centers
While rehabilitation centers are intended to give patients a safe and helpful space to recover, they can, unfortunately, facilitate several forms of neglect and abuse. The following are common examples of such mistreatment.
Older and mobility-challenged individuals are at a higher risk of serious injury from a slip and fall. Therefore, rehab centers must ensure that their premises are free of tripping hazards. Unmarked wet floors, exposed cables, uneven flooring, and cluttered floors can all increase the chances of patients slipping, falling, and injuring themselves. A clinic that maintains unsafe premises might be liable for any resultant patient injuries.
Drug withdrawal management
Drug rehab centers are essential for patients overcoming addiction and substance use disorders. They provide patients with a space free from temptation to abuse substances, along with therapeutic treatment to help them cope with the psychological challenges of addiction. However, withdrawal periods are physically and emotionally challening and must be carefully managed for patients’ comfort and safety. Withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can even be fatal. A detox facility that mismanages a patient’s withdrawal period could seriously injure or kill them, which would be grounds for a malpractice or wrongful death claim.
Negligent hiring practices
Rehabilitation is a highly specialized field of medicine. Physical rehab centers require an extensive staff of physical therapists. Drug rehab centers need qualified medical staff to see patients through detox. A patient going into rehab should be confident that the center’s staff is adequately trained to address their needs. If a rehab center is lax in screening prospective employees and hires applicants who are not properly qualified, they risk the patients’ comfort and health.
Rehab centers are medical facilities and should be held to similar sanitary standards as a hospital or a doctor’s office. If management fails to keep their premises clean, they risk getting patients sick. Unclean dishes, improperly disinfected bathrooms, and inadequately sterilized medical equipment pose significant risks to vulnerable patients and can leave clinics vulnerable to personal injury claims.
Unfortunately, abuse is not unheard of in rehabilitation centers. Rehab patients are usually in vulnerable states. They may be unable to properly care for themselves because of their age or mobility, or they may suffer from the psychological effects of addiction and withdrawal. Rehab employees sometimes take advantage of patients’ vulnerability by abusing them physically, sexually, or financially. Abuse in a rehab center indicates gross negligence in how ownership screens prospective hires and how they manage oversight of their staff.
Real-Life Scenario: Rehabilitation Facility Negligence
Southeast Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in San Antonio, Texas, settled a wrongful death lawsuit after six patients died of COVID-19 in 2020. The lawsuit stated that negligence on the part of the nursing home directly contributed to the patient’s deaths.
The nursing home already had a negative reputation. The daughter of a former resident blamed the facility for her mother’s slip and fall accident and claimed to have seen unsanitary conditions on the premises. Medicare investigations from 2019-2022 found several deficiencies, including inadequate protection of residents from abuse, substandard resident assessment and care planning, and poor quality of life. Overall, the nursing home had 18 deficiencies—twice the national average.
The lawsuit came after a Covid outbreak that infected 66 residents and nine staff members. Eighteen of those residents died—at the time, the most Covid-related deaths seen in any San Antonio nursing home. The plaintiffs claimed that the nursing home did not plan for a potential outbreak, leaving residents vulnerable to life-threatening infections. According to them, staff members and visitors were not screened for COVID before being allowed to enter the facility, and management did not provide staff with adequate PPE. The plaintiff’s lawyers also claimed that the family of one of the deceased was told that he was not sick only hours before his death. The plaintiffs enlisted a medical expert witness, who stated that the home could have done more to prepare for an outbreak.
The plaintiffs asked for compensatory and punitive damages. The nursing home claimed that a Texas law protected them from liability for Covid-related deaths. However, the court disagreed and the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
How an Attorney Proves Liability in Negligence Cases
A negligence claim will only be successful if the plaintiff can show that they experienced harm as a result of the defendant’s actions. The first step to a successful claim is providing evidence of that harm. If a patient gets sick due to unsanitary conditions at the facility, their illness is evidence of harm. Physical marks and bruises can also serve as evidence. In the case of a wrongful death claim, coroner’s reports provide proof of the specific injuries the deceased suffered.
An attorney has to prove that their client’s injuries could have been avoided if the defendant had adhered to a proper standard of care. As outlined above, several practices constitute negligence on the part of a rehab facility. If an attorney can demonstrate that ownership was responsible for any of those negligent practices, their client will have a better chance of receiving a settlement. Witness statements, video evidence of abuse, and photographs of unsafe or unsanitary conditions can all help prove that the rehab center’s ownership acted negligently.
The laws and regulations governing the operation of rehab facilities can make a compelling argument for negligence. A facility that fails to meet regulatory standards may have been cited in the past, as was the case with Southeast Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. An attorney can use those citations as evidence that the facility has a history of negligent practices.
Negotiating a settlement
An attorney will determine damages based on the plaintiff's injuries, economic losses, and non-financial losses. This might include the cost of medical care, money lost from being unable to work, and the physical pain and emotional distress that the plaintiff experienced as a result of their negligent treatment. They may also factor in punitive damages, which are not intended to compensate the plaintiff but to punish the defendant for legal violations. Excessive regulatory violations on the part of the nursing home might warrant punitive damages.
Civil lawsuits are often settled out of court for an agreed-upon amount. Settling out of court helps both parties avoid a lengthy and expensive court process. If the defendant wants to settle without a trial, the plaintiff’s attorney will negotiate with them to ensure that the settlement is fair.
Find the Best Attorney for Your Rehab Facility Negligence Case
If you are interested in pursuing a civil claim for rehab center abuse and negligence, your first step is to find a trustworthy attorney with relevant experience. Expertise.com’s nursing home abuse attorney directory can help you find a lawyer in your area who specializes in rehab facility negligence claims. Or call our concierge service at 848-266-5776 to have us connect you with a law firm.
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