When it comes to nursing home abuse, families often struggle with two competing emotions. On one hand, there is a desire to see justice and hold wrongdoers accountable. On the other hand, there are the practical elements of a legal action that must be considered when attempting to negotiate a fair and reasonable financial settlement. Unlike a typical car accident or slip and fall injury, emotions can run wild, making it very difficult for grieving loved ones to accurately make financial decisions.
So, how do you actually determine the reasonable and fair value of a nursing home injury case? Experienced nursing home abuse lawyers understand that settlements for nursing home abuse are unlike any other type of personal injury claim, and it’s worth taking a moment to understand why.
Separating Criminal from Civil Justice
Often, elder abuse takes the form of intentional criminal conduct. In these scenarios, it is important to involve the police and allow the criminal justice system to work. Police investigate allegations, and if the allegations are found to be valid, a prosecutor may bring criminal charges against individuals involved. However, this does not generally result in monetary awards or citations against a facility. Illinois has several key elder abuse laws that can be enforced. Those workers who are found to have abused seniors may also find themselves on the nursing home abuse registry.
If, on the other hand, the injuries are caused by negligence, such as inadequate nursing care, a missed diagnosis, passive neglect, or similar problems, there is no criminal matter to be pursued. Instead, it’s a civil matter. This means that an injured nursing home resident or their family can bring a civil lawsuit seeking monetary compensation. This type of claim does not punish wrongdoers in the traditional sense. Instead, it merely attempts to assess the financial value of the harm that was done. This is where nursing home cases can be frustrating.
What Goes into the Damage Calculation for a Nursing Home Negligence Case?
First, Illinois’ nursing home abuse law, called the Nursing Home Care Act, allows residents to bring a claim for injuries whenever their rights have been violated. Family members can enforce the Act by bringing a claim after a resident has passed away. However, while the law allows the recovery of monetary damages, traditional rules still apply. Here are some of the things that Illinois law permits victims to recover:
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Medical expenses (past and future)
The problem for nursing home residents is that in almost all cases, the victim is retired and no longer has income to lose. Likewise, nursing home residents often have very short life expectancies. Further, many victims die shortly after suffering their injuries, resulting in practically no medical expenses relating to their injuries. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, the “damages” are frequently limited to primarily pain and suffering.
When it comes to settlements, it can be tempting to look at large settlements or verdicts that are published in the news or online. Often, multi-million-dollar awards can be sensationalized and reported in ways that can make it seem as though the victims received all of that money. In truth, this is not common. Here are some real considerations one should understand.
Most Illinois nursing homes carry low insurance limits.
Let’s say you get a $1 million verdict against a nursing home with a $300,000 insurance policy. There’s a good chance that if you attempt to collect the additional judgment (above the policy limit), the limited liability company that owns the nursing home will merely file for bankruptcy protections and re-form as a new entity, leaving you with just the insurance proceeds.
Nursing homes are protected by layers of shell companies.
Most Illinois nursing homes are owned by several layers of limited liability companies and corporations, specifically for the purpose of avoiding the effect of legal judgments. While there are legal mechanisms for penetrating these layers in order to hold owners accountable, the process is full of problems, and Illinois courts have been very reluctant to allow victims to do so. Therefore, insurance coverage is often the only source of recovery.
Appeals are inevitable.
Just because a person receives a jury verdict for a large sum of money does not mean the defendant will pay immediately. Some families celebrate their large awards, only to end up waiting 5-7 years, through multiple appeals, before the matter is finally resolved.
So, when you see law firms touting large verdicts and settlements, just remember that there is a chance that the clients may not have actually received all that money. Likewise, the facts of each case can make an enormous difference. For instance, a difference between a 70-year-old victim and an 80-year-old victim can make a significant impact on the amount a jury awards, simply due to the statistical life expectancy. Further, it’s important to remember that jury sympathy may vary widely between elder abuse vs. neglect. One is egregious and intentional, while the other may be the result of poor staffing or some other, less sensational reasons.
In rural, small communities throughout southern Illinois, most nursing home neglect cases settle within the nursing home’s insurance limits, generally for less than $150,000, with more serious injuries returning settlements of upwards of $250,000. Hip fractures, bedsores, and similar types of injuries frequently result in significant medical bills, but it can be very difficult to measure the long-term impact of such injuries, because often victims die from unrelated illnesses shortly after their injuries.
Why Pursue a Case?
While it is rare to recover six or seven figure jury verdicts in nursing home abuse and neglect cases, it can happen. But this should not be the motivation behind bringing a claim. Instead, bring a claim to discourage future conduct and hold the nursing home accountable. Do it to ensure that improper care results in a significant cost to the facility and its owners. Finally, do it to recover funds that can be used to help the victim or their family with the unnecessary and needless expenses relating to the injuries.
At Jerome, Salmi & Kopis, we understand that everyone has different motivations for pursuing a lawsuit. We want to help you and your family understand your options. Our experienced attorneys won’t just tell you what to do; they will carefully explore options so that you can make the right decision for yourself. It’s just part of how we do business. Contact us today to get started with a free initial consultation.