Attorneys Review Status of Nursing Home Litigation in Illinois
Citizens of Illinois have had remarkable success in pursuing recovery against nursing homes. In 81% of all cases since 2004, victims and their families have received compensation from nursing facilities for various alleged and confirmed injuries. However, once one takes a closer look at the evolution of many of these lawsuits, a different story emerges. This is because in over half of the cases-nearly 62%-both sides reached a settlement preventing the need for trial.
Presumably, this was a result of the defense’s strategy wanting to limit legal expenses, minimize the attention drawn to the matter, and otherwise move on from the controversy. However, the practical effect of this was that juries never tested the pertinent legal issues arising from nursing homes across Illinois. In the limited situations where the cases did present themselves in a courtroom, juries returned verdicts equally between plaintiffs and defendants. Therefore, it is instructive for prospective plaintiffs to note the much safer route of settlement when choosing litigation strategies; yet, these facts should be reviewed in context with your nursing home abuse attorney.
Successful plaintiffs walked out of courtrooms with lots of money from the health care industry. The statewide average return since 2004 was a little more than a third of a million dollars, $344,681.00 to be exact. Approximately, 41% of all awards were within the range of zero ($0.00) and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), 24% were within two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00) and five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00), and 35% were more than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00).
Furthermore, plaintiffs earned slightly more at trial than they did in settlement: $381,144.00 on average for the former, and $333,462.00 on average for the latter. By far, the most plaintiff-friendly counties in Illinois were Cook and Winnebago measured by the number of settlement offers and jury verdicts; although, Cook, Winnebago, Kane, Madison, and Sangamon also exhibited favorable signs for victims measured by the size of settlement offers and jury verdicts.
On average, plaintiffs in Cook brought in $543,652.00 per case, while those in the rest of the state took in $221,508.00[wo2] per lawsuit; additionally, it is important to note that plaintiffs filing their suits in Cook county brought in most of the pie in general over the last 10 years, 60[wo3] % of all money offered through settlement and jury came from Cook. This disparity suggests a significantly different legal environment between the state as a whole and Cook county.
Understanding why Some Nursing Home Lawsuits Have Differing Outcomes
Consistent themes resonating out of all the instances of nursing home malpractice include the following:
- Negligent care
- Pressure sores (bedsores)
- Unnecessary falls
- Wrongful deaths
Negligent care must be understood within the context of two simultaneous developments: first, a large Baby Boomer population entering nursing home facilities, and, two, a support system that is unaccustomed and unequipped to handle the massive influx. Unfortunately, the capacity and capabilities of care centers have not kept pace with the rising number of residents, and this has manifested itself in numerous incidents of neglect and harm as evidenced in the Illinois jury award numbers previously outlined.
One common consequence stemming from inadequate care patients often face is pressure sores, also known as bed sores or decubitus ulcers. These injuries typically arise after excessive pressure or rubbing is applied to a particular part of the body and results in significant damage to the skin and underlying tissue. Areas most prone to pressure sores include elbows, knees, hips, and other bony parts of the body.
Symptoms often include tenderness, inflammation, and discoloration. The real problem, however, lies in the fact that it can deteriorate into a very serious medical condition in a very short amount of time. Combined with the overworked and understaffed nursing workforce, it has grown into a very serious problem afflicting many people residing in care centers, as is demonstrated by its prevalence within most lawsuits filed in Illinois on behalf of nursing home residents.
Unnecessary falls are also all to common in nursing homes and not surprisingly riddle the case literature pertaining to their residents. This is a huge concern because of the millions of Americans already living in nursing homes and the millions sure to move in over the next few decades. Further, according to the Center for Disease Control, there is approximately a one-to-two ratio between the number of beds in a nursing facility and the number falls experienced within it, and this only accounts for the percentage of falls reported. Further, the CDC finds that often residents fall on multiple occasions in any given year.
Most shocking however is that the rate of falls within these facilities nearly doubles that of the same age group living outside of them, on their own. Common explanations for the occurrence of these serious falls center on the residents themselves, the care of the residents, and their environment. As noted above, the portion of the population residing in nursing homes are already at a disadvantage, often times holding a mental disorder or ADL.
With respect to falls although, muscle failure and walking inabilities spur the most falls among residents. Then, medications often worsen these physical limitations and make the elderly more prone to accidental drops. Finally, nursing home issues such as understaffed and over-worked employees and lack of resources complete the dangerous triangle in which many residents are placed. Now, it is easy to see why falls are so commonplace and serious in nursing homes. Nearly 1,800 people die in nursing homes from falls every year, and almost 20% of all falls cause significant injury such as bone fracture!
Wrongful deaths are a frequent outcome arising out of nursing home lawsuits in Illinois and around the country. A wrongful death claim occurs when some person or some entity is deemed to be legally responsible for the death of someone else. Every state allows for this kind of legal action. To bring this claim, the person suing must be a representative of the decedent and must have incurred some special kind of damages. While states differ specifically over who can bring a wrongful death action, generally, many states allow immediate family members (such as dependents), partners, and parents to raise these claims.
Typically, liability for the wrongful death of another is quite broad and extends to anyone who may have had even a small part in the passing. It may extend to people, companies, organizations, or even government agencies. Finally, normally courts award damages for wrongful death actions for lost companionship, support, emotional distress, and even punitive damages if the court believe the conduct causing the injury passed a certain level of egregiousness.
This explains many of the outcomes of cases involving nursing homes in Illinois and around the county but it does explain the internal dynamics at play. This will be discussed next.
Emerging Trends in Illinois Nursing Home Litigation
- Emotional Versus Legal Arguments
- Minor Versus Developing Injuries
- Settlement Versus Trial
Certain themes emerge from the mass of nursing home cases in Illinois. One can identify threads running through them to indicate either success or failure, as well as large or small awards or settlements. The first most glaring trend centers on distinguishing between nursing home injuries involving discomfort and those regarding care or supervision.
The former triggered a higher rate of settlement, and they also triggered a higher return in award amount. Plausibly, one could make the argument that juries are more sympathetic to claims they can understand-such as pain-instead of legal distinctions.
Try as they may to craft finely-honed academic pleas, juries find sympathy in proportion to things they can understand. A very common issue in malpractice cases with nursing homes involves standards of care: did the home fall above or below the theoretical and esoteric line required for treatment, and exactly how much did they deviate from that imaginary line. This does not pull at the heart or mind of any jury person, and they have not responded in kind via award. However, when a plaintiff, or a plaintiff’s lawyer, explains how they were not cleaned or fed for days on end, every person on the jury feels in their gut a pain resembling how they would respond to such an injustice. Then, they respond through their verdict.
Another consistent storyline running through Illinois nursing homes cases is that problems initially innocuous or at least minor were exacerbated and turned into substantial injuries. This is often why the claims for two substantive injuries were coupled by a claim for inadequate care. For instance, one common claim was for pressure sores. As discussed above, this involves a combination of lack of oversight particular to the issue as well as ongoing failures to manage and treat the problem. However, over time this grew into such a issue that many plaintiffs died from complications related to the original sores.
Therefore, the resulting lawsuit joined pressures sores with inadequate care and wrongful death. In this manner, a possible settlement or jury award blew up into a massive where it originally would have only been a small percentage of the end sum. Further, it is important to note that the inadequate care by the home often joines the initial injury (which may not even be the fault of the facility) with the later, and normally larger injury. The cases that connect these two the best using a lack of care argument came away the best settlements or awards, depending upon their legal strategy.
Speaking of legal strategies, time and time again, nursing home cases were disposed of via settlement. This is just one way in which a lawsuit can be handled, others include dismissal, summary judgment, and a full a case on the merits. With a settlement, however, plaintiffs agree to withdraw and not redraw their case for a certain sum of money.
Three distinct advantages occur at this juncture. First, it speeds up the process of recovery by short-circuiting what can often be a years-long trial process. Second, it summarily brings compensation and it saves by cutting legal costs for trial. Third, it takes the matter out of the hands of the jury, which can often be arbitrary and unpredictable.
Nothing stops a jury from deliberating on matters or theories outside the scope of trial, except for settlements. Of course, there are tangential advantages to choosing this strategy as well, such as maintaining privacy, obtaining finality, and decreasing stress. Yet, on the other side of the courtroom, all of these advantages morph into disadvantages. Thus, it is easy to see why nursing-home defendants would also want to pursue settlement to minimize the costs, time, and uncertainty inherent in cases, especially with the prospect hanging over their heads of a sympathetic jury awarding an excessive award in the heat of the moment.
Conclusion: What to Expect During Illinois Nursing Home Litigation
The foregoing has been an attempt to paint a picture of the problems associated with the increasing number of people entering nursing homes. Often times, this has translated into greater injuries and subsequent lawsuits. Those settlements and awards were outlined and some explanation was given to help develop an understanding for those figures. To better understand these issues, and to discover remedies after you or a loved one has been injured in a nursing home, please give us a call. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC has experienced nursing home abuse attorneys based in Chicago who have seen and tried these cases before and can help you.
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