Your Comprehensive Guide to Nursing Home Fall Injuries and Recoveries

Elderly man leaning on rolling walker to get out of bed

Approximately one half of nursing home residents fall every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. About ten percent of the residents who fall are seriously injured.

Therefore, it is important for all nursing home residents and their loved ones to know about the causes of nursing home falls, what to do if a fall occurs, how to protect their legal rights after a fall, and how a nursing home abuse lawyer can help them recover.

Causes of Nursing Home Falls

A nursing home resident may fall because of medical conditions, medications, or the negligence of nursing home staff. Some common reasons for nursing home falls include:

  • Age. Older people fall more often than young people.
  • Poor vision. People with compromised vision may trip over things they cannot see.
  • Confusion. People who are confused may not pay attention to dangers.
  • Some medications. Many patients and residents fall because they are taking a medication that makes them sleepy or dizzy. Other patients may fall when they stand up because their medications lower blood pressure. Anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, and sedatives, for example, could increase a resident’s risk of falling. Patients and staff need to be aware of these risks and account for them.
  • Poor balance, coordination, gait, and range of motion (ROM). Many older patients and those who have had a stroke have poor balance and may have poor gait and coordination. They may also fall when their muscles are not able to flex and extend in a normal way. Lack of physical exercise or activity may make this problem worse.
  • Some diseases. Patients may be at risk for falling if they have heart problems, head or nervous system disorders, arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson's disease.
  • Unsafe areas of the nursing home. Wet floors, poor lighting, incorrect bed height, poorly maintained wheelchairs, clutter, and lack of working nurse-call bells may increase a resident’s risk of falling.
  • No answers to calls for help. Calls for help must be answered right away. A nursing assistant or nurse must go to the patient room’s quickly when a patient calls for help or turns on the nurse-call bell. This can be a problem if the nursing home doesn’t have enough staff to adequately care for residents, if there is a lack of training, if there is poor communication, or if there is neglect.
  • Broken equipment. A broken cane, walker, wheelchair, or wheelchair brake can result in a patient’s fall.
  • Past falls or a fear of falling. Patients and residents who have fallen in the past are at risk for future falls. Patients and residents will tense and tighten their muscles and be stiff if they have a fear of falling, and this can lead to a fall and injury.
  • Reliance on bed alarms or physical restraints. This may result in a lack of staff supervision.

Any fall that occurs in a nursing home can result in an injury. Therefore, nursing homes must abide by strict regulations to keep residents safe. Specifically, each nursing home must take action to prevent nursing home falls by performing the following actions:

  • Assessing fall risks for each resident on an ongoing basis, using tools such as the Morse Fall Scale.
  • Using intervention to minimize fall risk.
  • Using intervention to decrease injuries sustained in a fall.
  • Educating staff about strategies to prevent falls.

Fall prevention is a challenge that requires a team effort.

Injuries Caused by Nursing Home Falls

A fall is not just an embarrassing incident. It can result in serious, permanent, or fatal injuries. Some of the common injuries suffered include:

  • Hip fractures. One out of every five hip-fracture patients dies within one year of his injuries. Many others are left weakened and suffer permanent consequences from their fall injury.
  • Other fractures and broken bones. Older adults often suffer broken bones—including hip fractures, spine and back breaks, and injuries to the hands, legs, pelvis, and ankles—as they attempt to stop themselves from falling.
  • Serious head and brain injuries. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury in older people, and account for nearly half of all fatal nursing home falls in Kentucky. A brain injury may cause limited mobility, complete lack of independence, and health problems that increase the risk of early death.
  • Internal bleeding. While a fall may cause superficial bumps and scrapes, it can also cause severe lacerations both inside and outside the body. If your loved one broke a rib, he could suffer internal hemorrhaging as a result.
  • Death. Older patients are less likely to have the strong body systems necessary to heal from an injury. If an elderly resident suffers a broken bone that becomes infected, his weakened immune systems may not have the strength to recover.

Some residents may suffer from more than one of these injuries after a fall.

Take Action and Get Answers After a Nursing Home Fall

If your loved one has been hurt in a nursing home fall, be sure he is getting the medical care he needs and that his living situation is safe—whether that is in his current nursing home or somewhere else.

Then, you need to get your questions answered. Some questions that you may have include:

  • Did the nursing home complete a Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI) for my loved one? You will want to know if it was complete, if an adequate care plan was written based on the RAI, if the care plan was followed, and if the RAI or care plan was or should have been updated.
  • Was the staff educated about the risk of falls and fall prevent strategies? Did the nursing home provide any training on this topic?
  • Why was my loved one unassisted? When was the last time he was assisted out of bed or to the bathroom?
  • How long had it been since a staff member checked on him? What do the nursing home records say?
  • Why was the floor slippery? How long had it been that way? Why wasn’t it taken care of before my loved one slipped and fell?
  • Was it easy for my loved one to move safely in common areas and in his own room? Was the nursing home staff aware of any difficulties? Should they have been aware of any difficulties?
  • Did my loved one have a way to call for help if he fell or needed help? Did he know how to do it?
  • Did any of the medications or sedatives taken by my loved one increase the risk of falling? Was the staff aware of this, and were precautions take to prevent his fall?
  • Should additional measures have been taken to prevent the fall?
  • How long was he on the floor before he was found?
  • Did he suffer? Was he in pain? Was he scared?

You deserve to have all of these questions answered, and the person who caused your loved one’s injuries or death deserves to be held accountable.

Potential Liability, Lawsuits, and Compensation

A nursing home may be found negligent for a resident’s injury if the nursing home failed to provide reasonable care to the resident and if that failure to provide reasonable care resulted in the resident’s injury. The totality of the circumstances must be considered.

It is up to the person who was hurt, his legal guardian, or his estate to take action. Nursing homes typically do not take allegations of negligence seriously unless the injured party files a lawsuit and is serious about pursuing damages. A lawsuit begins when an official complaint is filed in state court explaining the legal cause of action, or case, against the nursing home. It must be filed before the statute of limitations expires and it must meet all of the legal and technical requirements to begin a lawsuit.

Now is the time to think about whether a nursing home abuse lawsuit is in your family’s best interest. It won’t undo what’s happened, but it could…

  • Help pay for any medical expenses your loved one incurred as a result of his fall.
  • Help pay for your loved one’s funeral expenses if he died from the fall.
  • Hold the nursing home accountable for what happened.
  • Help prevent future falls and fatalities.

It could help you and the rest of your family during this incredibly difficult time.

What If Fall Was Fatal?

If the fall resulted in your loved one’s death, then the right to pursue a lawsuit belongs to your loved one’s estate. It is the personal representative of the estate who can file a case alleging that nursing home negligence resulted in your loved one’s wrongful death. Any damages recovered in the wrongful death case would belong to the estate and be distributed accordingly.

Why You Need a Lawyer

You can spare yourself the stress of speaking directly with the people who may have caused your loved one’s injury or death and the people who didn’t do anything to stop it. You have the right to hire a lawyer who can get specific information from nursing home staff that could be relevant to your case. Your lawyer can use the legal discovery process to get the necessary information for your case. For example, your lawyer may ask the question via written interrogatories that the nursing home must answer, or he may ask the questions at a deposition.

There is no downside to contacting a lawyer for a free consultation about your rights, but you could jeopardize your potential recovery if you wait too long to make the call.

Please schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney to find out more about your loved one’s rights and possible compensation after a nursing home fall. You can reach us 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 888-450-4456.

Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law