What to do if you suspect nursing home abuse in New Jersey

No one should have to endure abusive care, including those who are living in a nursing home setting in New Jersey. At Cooper Levenson, P.A., we work to hold negligent parties accountable when they neglect or otherwise harm patients. If you have a loved one in such a facility, you need to know what to do if you suspect that wrongdoing is taking place.

According to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, any professional, such as a doctor or social worker, who learns of abuse in nursing homes is required to report it or else face a fine of $5,000. Abuse under these terms is defined as the following: 

  •        Any instance of intentionally causing mental anguish or physical harm or injury
  •        Any instance of intentionally withholding necessary services
  •        Any instance of keeping a resident in unreasonable confinement

If you have reason to believe that any of the above has taken place, you need to report it immediately. When the threat of harm is imminent, you should call local law enforcement. You can also contact the Office of the Ombudsman, which will investigate the complaint to determine what took place. The ombudsman will either resolve the issue or refer it to the appropriate agency.

New Jersey’s Department of Human Services also operates adult protective service programs in every county. According to the DHS, a social worker will launch an investigation within 72 hours of your complaint. Both the DHS and the Office of the Ombudsman will keep your information and case confidential.

Addressing potential abuse or neglect immediately is key to protecting your loved one. For more information on this topic, please visit our page regarding nursing home claims.


So-called medical never events still happen in New Jersey

Surgical errors such as operating on the wrong person or the wrong side of the body are never supposed to happen, though they do in New Jersey and across the country. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, these preventable surgical mistakes occur in one of every 112,994 cases. Though by that estimation the event is rare, it can have devastating effects on the patient.

Wrong-site surgeries include any of the following: 

  •        A patient undergoing the wrong procedure
  •        A physician operating on the wrong body part
  •        A patient having a procedure intended for someone else

While it is shocking that these circumstances happen, it is even more devastating that a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that perhaps only 10 percent of these never-events are ever appropriately reported to The Joint Commission.

The physical and emotional repercussions of wrong-site surgery are profound, made even more frustrating by the fact that it is entirely preventable. The Joint Commission has issued a report offering advice to medical care providers to implement comprehensive checklists prior to an operation. That checklist would include marking the side and site of surgery and checking to ensure it is correct.

Further, medical staff relieving each other should rely on open, thorough communication regarding a patient’s condition. That communication should extend to any professional who will come into contact with the patient, The Joint Commission states.

Patients in New Jersey who experience medical malpractice such as wrong-site surgery do have legal recourse. The state gives people two years from the date of the injury or from when the injury was discovered to file a lawsuit.

Know the warnings signs of nursing home neglect

Enrolling your loved one in a New Jersey nursing home may not have been an easy decision. At Cooper Levenson Attorneys at Law, we know that you want only the best for your family. That is why you should know the signs that could indicate that your family member has been neglected at the facility.

According to the Administration on Aging, nursing home neglect occurs when the people who are tasked with taking care of your loved one fail to do so in at least one of the following ways: 

  •        Not giving the resident food or shelter
  •        Not giving the resident the appropriate health care
  •        Denying protection for the elderly person

One of the symptoms that a nursing home resident has been neglected could be sudden weight loss. While it is true that elderly people tend to experience a decrease in appetite, noticeable weight loss could indicate that staff are not properly feeding or monitoring the diet of the resident.

Additionally, a resident who has either suffered a serious fall or frequent falls may be a victim of neglect. Each resident should have a customized care plan, which should address items such as whether or not the person will need help getting around the facility. Failing to provide that assistance demonstrates the inability of the staff to properly care to your loved one.

Lastly, bedsores are often the result of either poor nutrition or someone who has been in one position for a prolonged period of time. This is a serious condition that can result in pain in its initial stage and exposure of muscle and even bone in its late stages.

There is no reason your loved one should be subject to substandard care. For more information on this topic, please visit our page regarding negligence lawsuits.

What are punitive damages in medical malpractice cases?

Your medical malpractice lawsuit in New Jersey could result in three types of damages: 

  •        Economic: These refer to items that can be quantified, such as medical bills, missed wages.
  •        Non-economic: These refer to damages that stem from items such as pain and suffering or a loss of your future earning capacity.
  •        Punitive: These damages are meant to specifically punish the defendant.

It is rare for a plaintiff to receive compensation for the last type of damages. The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that punitive damages were only awarded in 5 percent of the 14,359 cases in which the plaintiff won in 2005.

In order to receive a punitive award, it must be obvious that the negligent party knew that he or she was committing harm. Judges will evaluate if the defendant acted either maliciously or purposefully. For example, if a doctor knows that a sponge has been left inside a patient and stitches him or her up anyway, a court could choose to award punitive damages.

New Jersey law sets forth several requirements when you choose to seek punitive damages. First, you must put in your initial complaint that you want that type of compensation. Additionally, you must first be awarded economic and non-economic damages before a court will consider granting punitive damages.

Lastly, New Jersey caps punitive damages at either $350,000 or five times the amount of compensatory damages that were awarded, whichever comes to the greater amount. A judge does have the discretion to change the amount of money awarded in punitive damages to satisfy the law.

While this information may be useful, it should not be taken as legal advice.

The damaging effects of diagnostic errors in New Jersey

Diagnostic mistakes are costly errors that are unfortunately all too common in New Jersey and across the country. According to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, one out of every 10 diagnoses given to patients is wrong. Further, a diagnostic error is responsible for as many as 80,000 fatalities on an annual basis, the organization states.

There are several ways that a mistake can manifest during the diagnostic portion of an illness, and those include the following: 

  •        A physician could misidentify the condition as something else.
  •        A physician could make a mistake that leads to a delay in the diagnosis, such as reading test results incorrectly.
  •        A physician could completely miss the condition, failing to diagnose the problem.

As the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality points out, medical staff often do not even know that they have committed a medical mistake related to a diagnosis. Patients may transfer to another provider or not even realize that the person who saw them originally made a mistake.

When an error in diagnosis takes place, a patient could suffer in a number of ways. Primarily, the underlying condition is never treated. This often happens when a doctor assumes that the presenting symptoms are tied to another condition. For example, believing that a patient’s headaches stem from migraines may lead to a painkiller prescription, which would not address a brain tumor that is actually causing the discomfort.

In some situations, patients are medicated for problems they do not have. Other times, patients do not receive the care they need in a timely fashion. Cancer, for example, is most treatable in its early stages. A delayed diagnosis in this area can be fatal.

The AHRQ points out that preventing the problem will involve better follow-up with patients as well as teaching doctors about how their unintentional biases could affect a diagnosis. When such an error does occur, patients should hold the negligent party accountable.

How do you know you have a medical malpractice claim?

Because the average person only has a general understanding of the law, most people would not be able to tell you the legal definition of what medical malpractice is. But despite this fact, most people could probably tell you when medical malpractice has occurred. That’s because everyone has high expectations for doctors, hospitals and nurses. When they fail to meet our standards and do so in what we might consider a negligent way, then one could argue that medical malpractice has occurred.

But is this really all there is to identify a medical malpractice case, you may ask? The answer is no. There are several elements that must be present in order to effectively argue that a medical professional or institution is guilty of medical malpractice. Today, we’re going to look at these factors to help you determine whether or not you have a claim for compensation because of medical malpractice.

The main element that must be proven in a medical malpractice case is negligence. As you may or may not know, negligence comes in many forms including, but not limited to: diagnostic errors, surgical mistakes or mismanagement of a treatment. Generally speaking, if a health care professional or facility deviates from the standard of care of the health care industry, then they are considered to have been negligent in their duties and could be liable for any injuries this causes.

So how do you know you have a medical malpractice claim, you may ask? If you suffered injury as a direct result of a medical mistake or if a family member died as a result of a doctor or hospital’s error, then you may have grounds for a personal injury claim and may be entitled to compensation.

It’s important to point out to our readers here in New Jersey that our state does have a statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases. This means that injured patients or grieving family members have a window of time in which they can take civil action against the negligent party. After this window of time has expired, the plaintiff loses the right to seek compensation.

To find out if you have a case, talk to a skilled personal injury attorney near you and get the representation you need to get the compensation you deserve.

Source: FindLaw, “Medical Malpractice In-Depth,” Accessed May 14, 2015