CannonLaw Newsletter - Spring 2005
NURSING HOME ABUSE AND NEGLECT
With people living longer than ever, more and more of our family members and loved ones will spend time in a nursing home. Although most nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are reputable and provide good care for their residents, a few do not. Reported cases of abuse and neglect are increasing as the number of nursing home residents rise, and the elderly and infirm are often the least able to help themselves.
Although nursing homes are regulated by the State of Texas, which investigates and punishes hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect every year, state officials cannot be everywhere at once. Everyone with a friend or relative in a nursing home should be aware of certain danger signs and be ready to act if they appear.
In nursing homes, the most common cause of neglect is the lack of sufficiently trained staff. With an eye on the bottom line, some facilities do not hire enough staff to properly care for their residents. Staffing shortages lead to overwork, and overwork and inexperience can lead to a breakdown in care. Neglect attributable to a lack of staff can include improper medication, failure to assist the residents with their hygiene, failure to turn the residents (leading to bedsores), and failure to adequately provide for the residents' safety and comfort.
More disturbing, some nursing home employees take advantage of the elderly under their care. Cases of theft, assault, and even sexual assault of nursing home residents have been reported. Although such examples of outright abuse are rare, they are serious, and you should be alert for signs of trouble.
If you suspect that the residents of a nursing home may be abused or neglected, follow up. A good checkup is the surprise visit, when the nursing home is not expecting you. This allows you to see how the home operates on a daily basis, rather than just the days when someone is coming to visit. When visiting, get to know the staff. Staff members can be an excellent source of information about the happenings in the home. If you do not like what you see, complain. Often, potential problems can be avoided if the nursing home is told clearly what is expected.
If a nursing home resident is in serious or immediate danger, DO NOT WAIT. Dial 911 to contact local law enforcement authorities. For cases where the abuse or neglect does not present an immediate danger, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the Texas Department of Human Services both handle nursing home complaints. Contact DFPS on its 24-hour hotline at (800) 252-5400 and DHS at (800) 458-9858. On the Internet, you can also go to
www.txabusehotline.org . If the abuse or neglect is criminal, the Attorney General or local law enforcement agencies may become involved.
You may need an attorney to represent you or your loved one. If you suspect that a loved one is being abused or neglected in a nursing home, call an attorney.
SIGNS OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT
What are the signs of nursing home abuse or neglect to look out for? Although a number of things might indicate that there are problems, common signs of possible trouble include:
* soiled bed linen or the smell of feces or urine;
* unexplained bruises or cuts;
* use of physical or chemical restraints;
* changes in mood or disorientation, often due to improper medication;
* weight loss; and
* unexplained fear or anxiety.
Trust your feelings. People can often sense trouble before they can identify a specific problem. Don't ignore your instincts.
INJURIES FROM TOXIC SUBSTANCES
Over the past century, the world has seen a number of industrial advances that have improved both the length of our lives and our standard of living. Unfortunately, an unintended byproduct of these industrial advances has been the increasing number of dangerous and toxic substances polluting the environment. Although many people recognize the names of some of the most famous (or infamous) disasters, such as Love Canal or Three Mile Island, there are hundreds if not thousands of sites all over the United States that are too contaminated with toxins to be used, and which await cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency. Perhaps you unknowingly live near one of these contaminated sites.
Dangerous substances are everywhere. Many older buildings still have lead-based paint, which can cause brain damage, especially in children. For years, workers were regularly exposed to asbestos, which is now known to be a leading cause of lung problems and cancer. Dry-cleaning chemicals and other solvents can cause brain damage and organ failure; pesticides used on crops can cause birth defects; waste that seeps out of a landfill can cause such varied problems as groundwater contamination and leukemia--the list goes on and on.
With the rise in the number of these toxins, there has been a similar rise in so-called "toxic tort" cases. A toxic tort case is nothing more than a lawsuit to recover for an injury or a death that is caused by exposure to some toxic substance. Toxic tort cases can be difficult and expensive to win. Often, people become ill without knowing why and it may take years to trace their problems back to the specific toxin causing the illness. Because corporate polluters are hardly eager to advertise their involvement with poisoning the environment, tracking down the party responsible for the toxins can also take years. Finally, the connection between the toxin in the environment and the injury must be shown, which usually requires expert scientific, medical, and engineering testimony to connect the dots. People who bring toxic tort suits against polluters often have to prove that they have, in fact, been injured and that they are not hypochondriacs who are merely imagining some problem that does not actually exist.
If you have been injured from toxic substance exposure and are considering legal action, please contact us for advice and guidance. We will retain experts to help determine your needs and reduced abilities and to translate subjective damage elements into economic terms that a court and jury can understand. Given the complexity of such cases, having good legal counsel is vitally necessary to help you file a legitimate claim, to make sure that you do not miss some deadline for filing your claim, to prepare the necessary legal paperwork, and to help you present your case to the jury.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a toxic substance and if you can show that your exposure to the toxic substance was because of the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation for various types of damages, including:
* lost past and future wages;
* lost earning capacity;
* emotional trauma and pain and suffering;
* physical or mental disability;
* the cost of necessary medical care and rehabilitation; and
* the value of property that has been contaminated or otherwise damaged.
Call our office to learn more about toxic torts.
CASE BY CASE
Boot Camp Death Could Have Been Avoided
When Bryan, an 18-year-old Texan, was convicted of drunk driving (his first offense), he decided to serve his probation at a private boot camp for juvenile offenders. At the boot camp, Bryan was not a complainer; nor did the camp's drill instructors consider him a problem.
Several months after Bryan began his probation, he reported being weak and coughing up blood, but the camp nurse ignored his complaints. The nurse finally saw him, but she didn't report his symptom of coughing up blood to the doctor she consulted by telephone. Instead, she gave Bryan penicillin and returned him to his normal routine, subjecting him to intense physical programs that pushed him further into illness. In fact, she told the drill instructors that Bryan was "good to go."
He was not "good to go." The instructors testified that Bryan was weak, ill, and having trouble breathing, but they couldn't excuse him without a medical exemption. When a camp employee asked the nurse to see Bryan again, she finally sent him to the hospital, where he died two days later. Medical experts testified at trial that the nurse had not thoroughly examined Bryan and that she should have reported the blood immediately. The jury awarded $40.1 million to Bryan's family, concluding that he died from pneumonia because his pleas for help were ignored for so long.
Are You Ready?
As the recent tsunami reminds us, natural disasters can happen at any time, with no warning. Although it is unlikely that a tsunami will hit Texas, other natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornados are not uncommon, and you should be prepared.
Before disaster strikes, be ready. Prepare a survival kit that includes nonperishable food, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered radio and flashlight, and extra clothing and blankets. In addition to having a survival kit, have a plan for each kind of natural disaster that may occur. For example, if a hurricane is coming, plan to move inland and stay with friends or relatives. If a tornado is coming, have a room in the interior of your house (preferably without windows) where you can go to ride out the storm. If the disaster is an earthquake, seek shelter under an interior doorframe or under heavy furniture, such as a table or desk. Everyone in your family should be familiar with a safety plan if a disaster occurs.
After a disaster, make sure that the event is truly over before venturing out. When the "all clear" has been given, check your home for damage. Take steps to secure your house if it is damaged but, if you smell gas, leave immediately. Avoid potentially hazardous debris such as downed power lines, and drink only bottled or boiled water until you are sure that the tap water is safe.
Planning and common sense can help you and your loved ones stay safe, no matter what Mother Nature sends your way.
WHY YOU NEED A PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
Although many of us enjoy being handy around the house, there is one time when it does not pay to "do it yourself"--when you or a loved one has been injured. Rather than trying to handle a personal injury claim yourself, you should seek the assistance of a personal injury lawyer. Here's why:
Experience: By hiring a personal injury lawyer, you can take advantage of the lawyer's experience. This experience helps your lawyer to evaluate your case and to determine what you are legally entitled to recover.
Level Playing Field: You can be sure that the wrongdoer's insurance company is going to have experienced adjusters and lawyers working against you . Often, an insurance company will delay settling a claim and even deny a valid claim. Even when it does offer to settle the case, the settlement offer may be unfairly low. It pays to have a lawyer on your side to prevent the wrongdoer from paying you less than you deserve.
Pay Only if You Win: Most personal injury lawyers work for what is called a "contingent fee," which does not require money up front. Contingent fees allow injured persons with valid claims but little money to get good legal representation. Also, most contingent fee agreements provide that you only have to pay the lawyer's fee if you win.
Other Issues: In addition to the injury claim itself, your lawyer can help you resolve matters that arise when someone has been injured, such as providing referrals to competent doctors and repair shops.
So, if you have been injured, don't do it yourself. Seek the help of an experienced professional to insure that you get what you are due.