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Mistreatment and neglect of the elderly is an endemic problem, especially in a state like Florida that has a higher elderly proportion than average. However, neglect takes many forms, including institutional neglect that can lead to accidents and long-term injuries. Incidents that might seem minor to a younger person can cause more physical and/or emotional harm in an elderly person, and whether something happens due to intentional malice or due to neglect, it nonetheless may be actionable.

Injuries Due To Negligence

Florida nursing homes have racked up a disturbing pattern of abusing and neglecting their patients. The state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman report for FY 2016 shows approximately 9,600 complaints filed statewide with both nursing homes and assisted care facilities, and of those filed against nursing homes, the number one complaint cause was “Dignity and Respect.” Staff attitudes can contribute to an atmosphere of negligence around both the building itself and around its residents.

Florida is also somewhat unique in that the law establishes a specific civil cause of action for abuse of the elderly, as opposed to making those aggrieved bring suit in general negligence law. The statute holds that any vulnerable adult who has been “abused, neglected or exploited” has a cause of action against the perpetrator, and may recover both actual and punitive damages if the facts warrant. The victim may bring suit, or their legally recognized guardian or conservator may do so. One important thing to remember, however, is that under this cause of action, the perpetrator’s employer may not be held vicariously liable for his or her actions, unlike when a suit is brought in general negligence or under some other theory of civil law.

The next most common cause of action, and the most commonly brought against nursing homes (as opposed to individual employees) is usually negligent supervision, which can encompass multiple issues. Laypeople may think of events like falls due to staff not watching patients, but negligent supervision can also encompass passive actions like ignoring obvious abuse being perpetrated by others. This especially occurs in situations of financial abuse – it is sadly common for such practices to either be negligently or willfully ignored. However, a knowledgeable legal professional can help you hold the staff and possibly the nursing home itself liable, if there is cause to find liability.

Injuries Due To Elder Abuse

The difference between elder abuse and negligence is that elder abuse usually includes intent, while negligence is a result of recklessness or inattention. Both can, of course, lead to significant long-term injury. Criminal abuse of the elderly is a surprisingly prevalent problem, especially among caregivers. Statistics from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) show as high as 84 percent of elder abuse incidents are either ignored or covered up by complicit staff, and the OIG has clarified seven different types of recognizable abuse commonly seen against older people, including general physical abuse, misuse of restraints, financial abuse and verbal abuse or harassment.

Bringing suit against a nursing home or a caregiver alleging elder abuse can be more complex than doing so under a theory of negligence law or civil abuse against the elderly. Some might think that a contract is necessary to bring suit against the home itself, but this is not the case in Florida; if you have a cause of action against a nursing home employee, there are instances where the nursing home may be liable in civil court for the effects of an employee’s criminal actions. The doctrine is called vicarious liability or respondeat superior, and it is recognized in Florida, though not in every state.

While a cause of action under Sec. 415.1111 precludes vicarious liability, a suit for elder abuse is brought under a different statute, and thus, it may be plausible to bring the nursing home or care facility in as a defendant even if you had not done so before. If an employee is found to be acting within the scope of their employment when they allegedly committed the abusive action, their employer may be held liable, and this does happen fairly commonly with nursing homes and care facilities.

A Knowledgeable Attorney Can Help You Recover

Our later years should be ours to enjoy, and our older relatives deserve to live them out free of mistreatment or fear. Finding out that someone you love is being abused can be a truly scary and infuriating event, and if it happens to you, you need a fighter who will work hard to ensure that you and yours receive what you deserve. The passionate Ft. Lauderdale nursing home attorneys at The Law Office of Joseph J. Lorusso, P.A. will do our very best to ensure you get the compensation and peace of mind you deserve. Contact us today at 954-715-3620 to schedule a free initial consultation. 

ombudsman.myflorida.com/publications/ar/LTCOP_2015_2016_Annual_Report.pdf

www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2012/415.1111

www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0800-0899/0825/0825.html

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/respondeat_superior

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