If you or a loved one has been injured by a nursing home, you may be able to file a negligence action against the nursing home to recover compensation for your injuries. Although there are several legal theories available to recover for injuries sustained at a nursing home, the general negligence claim is the most common.
Basics of a Negligence Claim
Owners, operators, and employees of a nursing home have a legal responsibility to act with certain standards of care in the operation of a nursing home. Typically, these standards are measured by what the reasonable owner or employee would do in the same or similar circumstances. The failure to comply with that standard is legal negligence.
Negligence actions arise in tort and require that the Plaintiff prove the four basic elements of a negligence claim:
- That the Defendant owed a legal duty to the Plaintiff;
- That the Defendant breached that duty;
- That the Defendant’s breach of the legal duty was the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries; and
- That the Plaintiff sustained damages as a result of the Defendant’s breach.
Moning v Alfono, 400 Mich 425, 437 (1977).
In most cases, negligence claims against nursing homes will be filed as standard negligence claims, although in certain situations, a negligence claim alleging premises liability may also be appropriate.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations governs the time frame in which a claim must be brought. For general negligence actions in Michigan, the statute of limitations is three-years. MCL 600.5805(10). However, this period may be extended in certain situations, such as when the Plaintiff is a minor or is suffering from mental insanity. MCL 600.5851(1).
Defenses to Negligence Claims
The defenses available to a nursing home or other care facility in a negligence action are the same as those available to other types of Defendants in negligence cases, and primarily focus on the elements that the Plaintiff must prove. In that regard, the two most common issues that arise in such cases are assertions that the Defendant did not owe the Plaintiff a legal duty, and that, even if Defendant did owe a legal duty, the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries was not the Defendant’s breach.
A Nursing Home’s Legal Duty to its Patients
Defining a nursing home’s legal duty can be difficult. There are numerous state statutes which regulate such care facilities, and these statutes can help to define the standard of care which each facility is required to provide. However, Michigan case law makes clear that such facilities cannot be required to keep “accident-free” facilities, as such a requirement would constitute a strict-liability standard. Bryant v Oakpointe Villa, 471 Mich 411, 425-426 (2004). Thus, the focus in this area should be on the reasonableness of the conduct of the nursing home and its employees. Id.
Proximate Cause as a Requirement for Establishing Negligence
The other commonly raised defense within nursing home negligence cases is that the Defendant’s breach was not the proximate cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries. Generally, this defense focuses on the medical injuries the Plaintiff sustained as a result of the Defendant’s breach.
Because many patients or residents of nursing home facilities are there because of physical or mental conditions, this defense requires the Plaintiff to establish through medical proof that the injuries he or she sustained were actually the result of the Defendant’s breach of a legal duty, rather than a pre-existing medical condition. It should be noted, however, that Michigan does allow a Plaintiff to recover for the aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Wilkinson v Lee, 463 Mich 388, 394-395 (2000).
Finally, it should be noted that the Defendant may employ other procedural defenses, including a violation of the statute of limitations, or a lack of standing if someone other than the injured individual is named as the Plaintiff. Additionally, if a count of premises liability is asserted, the Defendant will have the premises liability defenses available as well.