Can Nursing Homes Be Held Responsible for Wrongful Death?

California law defines wrongful death as a death of a person caused “by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” Under this definition, a nursing home can be held financially responsible for a wrongful death that occurs while a person dies in their care. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death in Nursing Homes

Common causes of wrongful deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities include:

  • Neglect – Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide proper care to residents. If staff withholds food, health care, medication, or attention from a resident and the resident dies as a result, the nursing home may be liable for the death. Residents who are neglected may suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, disorientation, falls, or attacks from other residents. Signs of nursing home abuse include the presence of bedsores, declining health, unexplained weight loss, malnutrition, and insomnia. 
  • Abuse – Nursing homes can also potentially be held liable for a resident death that occurs when they negligently hired or retained abusive staff members who harmed the resident. Signs of nursing home abuse include unexplained injuries, fear around certain staff members, and regressive behaviors like sucking a thumb or rocking back and forth. 
  • Unsafe environment – Nursing homes are required to comply with state and federal regulations, but many of them routinely fail safety inspections. They may have unsanitary conditions that put residents at risk, such as unclean environments and a lack of cleaning standards that make these vulnerable individuals more likely to get sick or injured. They may also fail to provide a proper fall risk assessment or have fall hazards like a lack of bedrails or cords on floors. 
  • Medical malpractice – Nursing homes provide medical care to patients. If they provide inadequate care, fail to properly diagnose patients, or make medication mistakes, these errors can potentially kill the resident. Patients who have untreated conditions or sepsis may have suffered medical malpractice that caused their death. 

Nursing homes have a legal obligation to maintain a safe environment for patients and to provide proper care to them. When they fail to uphold this obligation, they can be the subject of a wrongful death claim.

Some factors that contribute to personal injury and wrongful death incidents in nursing homes include:

  • Understaffing
  • Negligent hiring and retention policies
  • Lack of training or poor training
  • Lack of supervision
  • Chronic fatigue of workers due to understaffing

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in California?

California limits the ability to file a wrongful death claim to certain family members. This includes the decedent’s:

  • Surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Children or grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Legal guardians
  • Next of kin

Potential Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

The surviving family may be able to obtain compensation for funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, lost wages, and the loss of the decedent’s society and companionship. It can be difficult to quantify these damages, but a wrongful death lawyer from Aitken * Aitken * Cohn can help. Additionally, a lawyer can seek punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior and to prevent similar conduct in the future. 

Contact Us for Help

If your loved one died while in the care of a nursing home, contact our experienced wrongful death lawyers. We can conduct a thorough investigation to determine the factors that contributed to your loved one’s death and identify who is responsible. Our Orange County wrongful death attorneys provide a free case consultation to explain your legal options.