Is the nursing home liable if a staff member abused a resident?
Thousands of Pennsylvania families trust the care of their loved ones to nursing homes across the state. But when these homes fail to train their employees properly or hire unfit staff members, your loved one could be at risk of abuse.
What constitutes nursing home abuse?Before we get into liability, we should clarify that nursing home abuse comes in many forms, including:
Physical abuse consists of actions taken directly against the resident's body, whether in the form of hitting or restraining. Neglect, failing to meet basic, necessary care, can also constitute physical abuse.
Emotional or mental abuse might include verbally berating or assaulting a resident, or keeping them in isolation as a form of punishment.
Financial abuse is the unauthorized or coercive use of the resident's funds and personal property for a staff member's benefit. This type of abuse might include changing financial documents to make a staff member a part of their will without the resident's understanding or asking for large sums of money as gifts or loans.
Sexual abuse is any actions taken that imply sexual activity or expose the resident's sexual organs. Sexual abuse can also include taking pictures of residents in compromising positions, exposing residents to pornography without their consent, or forcing residents to engage in sex acts.
Who is liable?If a staff member was directly responsible for the abusive actions, s/he is the direct cause of the abuse and therefore the directly liable party. However, even though the staff member was the responsible party, s/he is likely not the only liable party.
In this case, the nursing home will likely also be liable, even if it had no knowledge of the abuse. This is due to a concept known as respondeat superior.
Legal Doctrine: Respondeat SuperiorRespondeat superior, or vicarious liability, provides that an employer is liable for the actions of its employees -- given that the employee acted within the scope of his or her employment.
Proving responsibility in this case requires proof of the employee's relationship with the nursing home (e.g., full-time, contractor, volunteer, etc.). Your attorney will also gather that employee's personnel file to identify any errors in his/her employment history such as overlooked criminal history or disciplinary action.
Some of these investigations find that the employee had a history of criminal or employment issues that should have omitted him/her from employment consideration from the start. If this is the case, it significantly helps your nursing home abuse claim.
Legal Doctrine: Corporate NegligenceAt first glance, a staff member might be responsible for your loved one's abuse. If your complaint is that your loved one failed to get his/her insulin shot before a meal, it could be due to a negligent staff member. However, there are cases where the nursing home is understaffed, and the staff members simply could not keep up with all of the necessary duties to handle the administration of insulin while trying to prepare a meal.
If understaffing or the unsafe nature of the premises is the cause of your loved one's abuse, the nursing home can be liable in a corporate capacity.