COVID-19 Can Lead to a Wave of Lawsuits Against Nursing Homes
Nursing home litigation is already a vibrant area of the law as thousands of lawsuits are filed each year due to these facilities' failure to properly care for their residents. Now, in the wake of COVID-19 and the toll that it has taken on these nursing homes, there may be countless additional lawsuits for the failure to stop the spread of infection in the facilities. Nobody knows the true toll that coronavirus has taken in these nursing homes, but it will become apparent after the outbreak is contained. This will be yet another challenge for an industry that is already struggling under the weight of its own self-imposed issues.
One of the first major coronavirus stories in the U.S. was the Life Center Nursing Home in Kirkland, WA, where the virus rapidly spread through the facility. The nursing home was caught flat-footed and did not realize that they were dealing with a highly-contagious disease that could be fatal. Instead, facility personnel thought they were dealing with an outbreak of the flu. By the time that the virus had finished spreading throughout the facility, 35 residents and staff members had died from COVID-19.
Federal regulators were very quick to take firm action against the nursing home for its lapses in care. There are strict infection control protocols that the nursing home did not follow. As a result, the facility was fined $600,000, which is an extremely large fine as far as nursing homes are concerned.
The Total Amount of Civil Liability Can Be Staggering
The fines promise to be a small fraction of the amount of civil liability that nursing homes could face. Even though the CMS and CDC were slow to issue guidance to nursing homes, it was readily apparent to many facilities that they were dealing with a deadly infection. Nonetheless, there have been countless stories of nursing homes that have been ravaged by the outbreak. There is no true and accurate count of how many nursing homes have had coronavirus cases in their facility. In states such as New Jersey, as many as a third of the nursing homes in the states have been affected.
Even though COVID-19 is highly contagious and deadly for older people, nursing homes could still be found liable in a civil lawsuit if they failed to take steps to protect their residents from the spread of the disease. Families of residents who perished can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing homes. They may be entitled to financial compensation if it turns out that the nursing home failed to follow common infection prevention rules as well as the CDC and CMS guidance dealing with the coronavirus.
Nursing Homes Were Slow to Take Steps to Protect the Residents
Even though they are facing difficult circumstances, nursing homes are still responsible for their actions pertaining to the virus. Many facilities were unprepared for the outbreak as they did not have adequate supplies of protective equipment and sanitizers to keep the virus from spreading throughout the facilities. Other nursing homes did not have adequate staff on hand to give the residents the care they need and to keep the area sanitized.
Besides a failure to prepare, nursing homes also did not take the proper precautionary measures as signs of the outbreak began to become apparent. The first thing that a facility should have done was to isolate patients who were showing signs of illness. However, in the facilities that had an outbreak, there are numerous reports that staff did not immediately do so, contributing to the spread of the virus.
Once news of the virus became known, nursing homes should have taken additional steps to prepare and should have been on the lookout for any symptoms of the virus. Instead, the illness continues to spread throughout these facilities and hundreds of elderly nursing home residents have died. The toll will get much worse before the virus is contained.
For many nursing homes, the wave of lawsuits may present an existential threat. For example, Life Center is one of the largest nursing home chains in the country and already faces a large number of lawsuits each year as many of its homes receive low quality ratings. Now, the outbreak at the Washington home threatens to lead to dozens of lawsuits that could result in large payouts. This threatens smaller nursing homes even more as the total amount of payments can be high.
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