The risks change for people as they age. Unfortunately, moving into a nursing home environment increases the risk of physical, emotional, and financial abuse. When caretakers negligently or maliciously harm elders in their care, they may face legal repercussions for their actions. At Fiol Law Group, our Tampa nursing home abuse lawyer represents elders and their families in claims against individual caretakers, nursing home facilities, and physicians.
In Hillsborough County, FL, 2015 statistics from the state Department of Elder Affairs indicated that just over half of all residents are 60 years of age or older. The numbers may have changed slightly since then, but the Tampa Bay area is still home to a large population of retired and aging adults. A portion of these elders, sadly, will face some type of abuse in later life.
Elder Abuse Laws in Florida
In Florida, defendants can face both civil liability and criminal charges for abusing an elder. At Fiol Law Group, we focus our practice on representing the families and individuals injured in nursing home abuse claims. Criminal charges may put a negligent or malicious caretaker behind bars, but they cannot compensate victims for their losses. In a civil claim, we can hold individuals and nursing home organizations financially accountable for their actions.
We cannot undo the harm an elder experienced, but we will fight for fair compensation or injuries, pain and suffering, and loss of quality of life. No one deserves to suffer at the hands of a supposed caretaker at their most fragile.
The state of Florida enforces specific laws regarding the care of elderly residents. Our laws require anyone who knows about or suspects elder abuse to report the information to proper authorities. Under statute §415.1111, a vulnerable elder who suffers abuse retains the right to compensation for losses as well as punitive damages (fines meant to punish the wrongdoer). The statute covers individuals who suffer physical and/or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial/property/knowledge exploitation at the hands of another.
An elder may file the action him or herself. If unable to do so, a guardian or estate representative (in the event of wrongful death) may file a claim on the elder’s behalf. An individual can face abuse claims for both actions and omissions that endanger or harm elderly individuals. Any caretaker may face a civil claim, including at home caregivers, nursing home caregivers, nurses, hospice caregivers, assisted living caregivers, and volunteers.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse in Tampa, FL
If you suspect an instance of nursing home abuse, you must report the instance to the elder abuse hotline at 1-800-962-2873. We also strongly suggest reaching out to our Tampa nursing home abuse attorneys to discuss your rights and options regarding a civil claim. An attorney can evaluate the situation, investigate your claim, and represent you in front of nursing home representatives and the state during abuse proceedings.
At Fiol Law Group, we believe every instance of abuse represents an opportunity to stop a widespread problem in nursing homes. Not only does taking legal action bring you closer to a sense of justice and closure, but it may also prevent instances of abuse from happening again. A caretaker or facility that must pay for its wrongdoing may change care taking policies, hiring standards, and more to prevent future incidents. Let us help you obtain compensation and justice for your loved one. Call us now 816-223-6773 or 866-921-7560 in Tampa, FL for a free case evaluation. We handle all nursing home abuse lawsuits on a contingency fee basis, meaning your family only pays attorney fees if you win your case.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
In the legal sense, abuse may refer to unwanted physical, emotional/verbal, and sexual acts. Nursing home cases may also include acts of neglect and manipulation or exploitation. At Fiol Law Group, we represent individuals in all types of nursing home cases. Some of the most common types of nursing home abuse we represent in the Tampa area include:
- A form of neglect, bedsores (also known as pressure sores) can only form when a patient lays in one position for an extended period of time. When caretakers fail to move, change, or bathe an elder, bedsores can develop. The condition most often happens on areas of the body that experience constant pressure with an outside surface. They may appear near the hips, tailbone, ankle, or other areas on the body.
This condition takes time to manifest – often weeks or months. Physicians diagnose bedsores as one of four stages. Mild bedsores appear red and painful while stage IV bedsores can damage tissue, muscle, and bones. Painful at every stage, later stage bedsores may require surgery and constant medical attention to heal.
Basic hygiene prevents bedsores, making them a deplorable form of neglect in a nursing home setting. With even a basic level of care, facilities can avoid these injuries. A visitor or loved one may recognize the following signs of bedsores including:
- Unusual pain near a location on the body that comes into prolonged contact with a bed or wheelchair
- Visible redness or an ulcer at the site of pain
- Foul smells coming from underneath a patient
If you notice any signs of bedsores in a nursing home patient, act. The sores are very painful and a clear sign of neglect and other kinds of abuse.
- As people age, the risk of injuries from falls increases. A fall in the wrong way and the wrong location may lead to death. In nursing home environments, you may think caretakers will prevent the risk of falls. In reality, environmental hazards, inadequate care, poor oversight, and poor training contribute to dangerous and deadly falls. A broken bone or hip in an elderly patient can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
Typically, our Tampa nursing home abuse lawyers looks into facility maintenance, training, and oversight practices to prove neglect in falls. If a loved one falls in a nursing home under suspicious circumstances, ask questions. Talk to residents, ask the elderly individual about the situation, and ask for a second medical opinion. Falls can happen accidentally. However, if it happened as the result of negligence, an attorney can help you protect your loved one’s rights.
- Dehydration and malnutrition. Nursing homes may not offer the best food, but they do bear a responsibility to keep their patients hydrated and well fed. In a nursing home setting, getting an elder to eat and drink enough requires adequate staffing, charts, and alternative nourishment therapies. When caretakers fail to pay attention to elders’ eating and drinking habits or knowingly ignore them, they contribute to poor overall health. Poor nutrition and hydration exacerbate anemia, osteoporosis, low blood pressure and more.
Unlike other forms of abuse, dehydration and malnutrition deteriorate an individual’s health over time. Recognizing the signs and symptoms may require a studied eye. While an elder’s appearance may naturally change over time in a nursing home, unreasonable weakness, weight loss, and illnesses associated with malnutrition may indicate professional neglect. Other signs may include canker sores, muscle atrophy, cognitive difficulties, and dull skin. Talk to your loved one about meals, observe eating habits, and ask questions if you suspect malnutrition.
- Some caretakers threaten and/or strike patients in their care. A caretaker need not actually harm an elder to commit an act of assault. Verbally or physically threatening violence constitutes assault, while battery describes striking, pushing, or forcefully grabbing a patient. Hiring and training practices vary among nursing homes. Some do a great job of training all employees, while others try to move employees into the field as soon as possible.
If you notice any unexplained bruising, soreness, lacerations, or behaviors in an elder at a nursing home, dig deeper for answers. Dementia and other illnesses may contribute to some personality changes, but physical evidence clearly signals some type of mistreatment. An elder should never feel unsafe or afraid in a nursing home.
- Medication errors. In nursing homes, few if any residents manage their own medications. Instead, caregivers manage and administer all medications throughout the day. They are responsible for accurately and consistently managing medication guidelines under the supervision of a qualified medical professional. When caregivers purposefully or negligently mishandle medication and patients suffer, they may face liability for the errors.
Some medications may not cause serious side effects if mismanaged to a certain extent, while others can cause life-threatening conditions or death. For example, mismanaging blood pressure medication can spike or lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Many medications that elders take require careful monitoring including insulin and blood thinners. Always ask questions about serious health incidents to determine if medication mismanagement may have contributed to complications.
Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Uncovering nursing home abuse warning signs often takes a practiced eye. At Fiol Law Group, our Tampa nursing home abuse attorneys highly recommend every adult child and visitor scrutinize the facility, personnel, and patient health at every nursing home visit. Some warning signs are very subtle, while others indicate blatant disregard for a patient’s health. In addition to the specific symptoms listed above, common warning signs of abuse may include:
- Changes in personality or emotional health
- Outward signs of fear in the presence of nursing home staff members
- Sudden and unexpected weight loss
- Refusal to eat, take medications, or engage basic hygiene
- Foul smells, unclean linens, and unclean rooms
- Frequent infections
Nursing home abuse and neglect are crimes that affect one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. When nursing home staff members berate, beat, humiliate, or carelessly overlook residents, serious to fatal injuries and emotional harms can occur. Sadly, family members of those in Tampa Bay nursing homes cannot blindly assume the facility will take good care of their loved ones. Nursing home abuse goes widely underreported. It is often up to the friends and family members of nursing home residents to detect abuse and neglect.
3 Ways to Detect Nursing Home Abuse
1. Look for Physical Signs
Nursing home staff members may negligently or intentionally fail to properly care for residents, resulting in neglect-related injuries and illnesses. Failing to change adult diapers, to properly exercise bedridden residents, to take care of personal hygiene, forgetting to feed, or intentionally not feeding a resident are all forms of resident neglect. Physical signs of neglect include bedsores, malnutrition, deteriorating health, poor hygiene, rashes, weight loss, and symptoms of untreated medical conditions.
If someone is physically abusing your elder loved one, you may notice signs such as bruising, scratch marks, burns, or unexplained injuries and trips to the hospital. Look for strap marks around the wrists and ankles as a sign of improper use of restraints. A red flag should go off in your mind if the stories of the nursing staff don’t line up with your loved one’s injuries or if your loved one has unusual physical marks – especially on the midriff and other areas usually concealed with clothing. Sexual abuse can cause pelvic/groin injuries and leave signs such as difficulty walking and bloody undergarments.
2. Pay Attention to Emotional and Psychological Changes
Nursing home abuse and neglect not only take physical tolls on senior citizens. They can also harm a person mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. Some forms of abuse do not leave physical marks, but they can still be damaging to an older person’s health and safety. Verbal abuse such as yelling, berating, swearing, or humiliating the resident can cause behavioral changes and depression. Mental abuse, such as ignoring the resident for long periods or denying him/her necessities such as baths and food, can also be harmful physically and mentally.
Non-physical signs of elder abuse include sudden depression or anxiety, increased stress levels, unexplained feelings of shame or guilt, decrease in self-confidence, lashing out, mood swings, aggression, fearful reactions, aversions to being touched, and withdrawal from favorite activities. Visit your loved one often so you can notice changes in mood and behavior. Ask your loved one about it. If you don’t get a straight answer, investigate. Always take allegations of physical, mental, or sexual abuse from your elder loved one seriously.
3. Watch for Elder Financial Exploitation
Physical and emotional abuse aren’t the only risks to Tampa’s nursing home population. Unfortunately, nursing home staff members, caregivers, and even friends and family members of seniors may steal from the person – especially if the elderly person has dementia or another condition that makes him/her vulnerable to financial exploitation. Keep an eye on your loved one’s bank accounts, assets, trusts, and wills. Signs of exploitation can include sudden or large withdrawals, strange bank account activity, someone else writing checks for your loved one to sign, and unexpected changes in wills.
Some common warning signs of abuse may also accompany certain illnesses including dementia. Any unusual or unexplained behavior may warrant further investigation. If you have any suspicion of nursing home abuse, reach out to the Tampa elder abuse lawyers at Fiol Law Group. We can help you make an informed decision about pursuing further action.
Hire a Tampa Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
At Fiol Law Group, we take nursing home abuse claims very seriously. Some of the most common root causes of nursing home abuse that we see include poor hiring practices, inadequate training, poor management practices, and high rates of turnover. We understand how to approach nursing home abuse cases of all kinds, and our attorneys will pursue each claim to the full extent of the law. Nobody deserves to feel dehumanized or forgotten in a nursing home.
Taking action provides families with much needed compensation to cover medical expenses and the pain and suffering that a loved one endures. It also plays a larger role in the fight against nursing home abuse. Everyone who comes forward to fight against malicious and negligent acts of abuse may prevent someone else from suffering from the same fate. At Fiol Law Group, we want to create a better future for everyone who lives in nursing home environments.
If you have any questions or concerns about a loved one in a nursing home in or around Tampa, FL, contact our office for a free case evaluation. Let us fight for your rights in the wake of a nursing home abuse incident.