What is a sepsis lawyer?
A sepsis lawyer represents residents of nursing homes who have been hospitalized or passed away due to sepsis.
Suing a nursing home for negligently causing sepsis requires an experienced trial lawyer. Sepsis cases are different from other nursing home negligence cases. Here’s how:
- Internal Medicine. Unlike a fall or an assault, the evidence for negligence is not found through witness testimony or camera footage. Proof must be found in thousands of pages of medical charts and lab results. A sepsis lawyer understands how to find the needle in the haystack.
- Causation. Just because “A” happens before “Z,” doesn’t mean “A” caused “Z.” Sepsis cases require expert analysis to show how the nursing home’s negligence lead to injury or death.
- Age and Disability. Nursing homes often defend their cases by saying the resident was old and dying anyway. Experienced trial lawyers know how to counter these arguments with law and fact.
An experienced sepsis lawyer can evaluate whether you have a case against the nursing home. Feel free to give us a call. Our consultations are always free.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is not an infection. According to the CDC, sepsis is the body’s reaction to an infection.
When the body develops an infection (bacterial, fungal, viral, etc), it defends itself by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream. Most of the time, the chemicals do their job and the body recovers. Sepsis occurs when the chemicals cause massive tissue inflammation. Tissue inflammation leads to blood flow impairment, which then causes life-threatening damage to organs.
Although the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, the medical community is still working to understand and define the condition.
Unfortunately, other terms are used incorrectly to describe sepsis. In medical records and death certificates, you’ll see the term bacteremia, septicemia, or blood poisoning. Both bacteremia and septicemia are often used to describe bacteria or infection in the blood. Again, sepsis is not an infection itself, but the massively inflammatory response to the infection. So, while bacteremia or septicemia may produce sepsis, both describe separate and unique medical conditions.
How does sepsis progress to septic shock?
According to recent medical understanding, sepsis progresses in stages. It starts as a localized infection and ends in a system-wide, bodily response. Sepsis progresses as follows:
- Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS): The body begins to respond to a localized infection in the body.
- Sepsis: The body begins to respond to infection with inflammatory measures.
- Severe Sepsis: Inflammation begins to affect circulation and organ function.
- Septic Shock: Inflammation causes complete organ failure.
As you can guess, it is absolutely possible to have an infection but not develop sepsis. This happens all the time in nursing homes. However, once developed, it can quickly kill if not caught by staff.
Finding evidence that the nursing home did not observe the progressing signs is what a sepsis lawyer does. Don’t know whether you have a case? Give one of our nursing home lawyers a call. Our consultations are always free.
How is sepsis contracted in nursing homes?
Since sepsis is not an infection, it is not “contracted.” A nursing home resident only becomes septic as a result of contracting an underlying infection.
Any type of infection may lead to sepsis. The most common infection source is bacterial, followed by viral and fungal. The infections can either be localized to a site (like a wound site) or region (UTI), or spread to the blood.
Here are the common sepsis-causing infections in nursing home residents:
- Gram-Negative Bacilli. E. Coli, Pr. aeruginosa, Haemophilus Influenzae
- MRSA. Staphylococcus aureus
- Bacterial Pneumonia. Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Viral Pneumonia. Mycoplasma pneumoniae
How do I know if I have a case against a nursing home for sepsis?
Unlike other nursing home abuse cases like physical assault or pressure ulcers, it is very difficult for the average person to determine whether there’s a potential lawsuit. That’s why if your loved one was hospitalized or passed away due to sepsis, you should reach out to a sepsis lawyer for a case evaluation.
All cases in Georgia for nursing home neglect require two fundamental components:
- Fault. Did the nursing home do something in violation of the law or of standard practices? We call this “negligence.”
- Causation. Did the nursing home’s negligence cause a serious injury or death? This is called “causation.”
A nursing home lawsuit for sepsis requires proof of both negligence and causation in order to be successful. Typically, the only way to know is to conduct an analysis of the medical records, the nursing home’s history of citations for infection protocols, and witness interviews.
Here’s some examples of proof that we use in sepsis lawsuits:
- Underlying Infection. Sepsis is an inflammatory response to an infection. The primary evidence is the existence of the underlying infection. For example, pneumonia or UTI.
- Lab Results. Laboratory results may be used to identify the infection underlying the infection and linking it to a region of the body (i.e., wound site).
- Vitals. Signs of sepsis often go overlooked by overworked staff. Reviewing the resident’s vital stats can determine whether symptoms of sepsis were recorded but not acted upon. For example, respiration, body temperature, and pulse.
- Citations. Some nursing homes are breeding grounds for infection and have a history of receiving citations. This can often be used as evidence where the nursing home fails to implement its promised corrections.
- Nurse Notes. Often, nursing staff documents the symptoms of sepsis but do nothing about it.
Essentially, you will likely not know whether you have a case for sepsis against the nursing home without consulting with a lawyer and obtaining the medical records.
Preventing sepsis in nursing homes
Nursing homes are obligated under Federal and state law to take steps to reduce sepsis.
The principal method of preventing sepsis or septic shock is to catch the symptoms early. Nursing home staff must be trained to identify residents that are at most risk of developing the condition. Then, taking appropriate action once diagnosis is made.
Elderly residents with existing or suspected infections, like UTIs, pneumonia, or pressure ulcers, are at greater risk. Staff should be aware of these residents and monitor them accordingly.
Nursing homes must take action if a resident with a proven or suspected infection (like a UTI or pressure ulcer) develops at least two of the following symptoms:
- Altered mental status (i.e. uncharacteristic lethargy, confusion, delirium, or loss of capacity)
- Lowered blood pressure
- Rapid Breathing (greater than 22 breaths per minute)
A resident with an infection (or suspected infection) and two of the above symptoms is septic.
Identifying sepsis early is critical. However, a septic resident is not out of the woods yet. Nursing homes should have protocols that get the resident help quickly. Sepsis protocols include:
- Notifying a primary care physician or infectious disease physician
- Run the appropriate tests and labs
- Document all symptoms
- Send for treatment
Early detection of sepsis in nursing homes
Nursing home staff must be trained on the early detection of sepsis. Why? Sepsis can kill in as little as a few hours. Early diagnosis and treatment can be the difference between life and death.
Every minute counts. In fact, the “gold standard,” meaning the best practices for the nursing home, is to get appropriate antibiotics to a septic resident within one hour. Every hour of delay increases the chance of death by 8%.
Nursing homes staff are required by law to observe, document, and intervene when there are significant changes in a resident’s condition. Especially those residents that already have a documented infection, or are likely to develop an infection (i.e. have open wounds). This may include instances of the onset of sepsis.
Early signs of sepsis in nursing home residents:
- Body Temperature Change. Fever (> 101℉) or Chills (< 95℉)
- Rapid Heart Rate. > 90 Beats per minute.
- Rapid Breathing. > 20 breaths per minute.
- Behavioral Change. Lethargy, confusion, delirium.
Do I need a sepsis lawyer?
The likelihood of the nursing home settling with a family that is not represented by a lawyer is slim to none, and slim just left town.
Even if you engage a nursing home in settlement discussions without a lawyer, understand that your family’s best interest is not on their mind. In fact, the chances of being taken advantage of increase dramatically.
A lawyer experienced in suing nursing homes for sepsis understand not just the law, but the underlying medical facts necessary to prove your case. Medical malpractice is not the same as car wrecks or slip and falls. There are more ways for the nursing home to avoid liability.
We definitely recommend retaining a lawyer as soon as possible. If your loved one has been hospitalized or passed away in a Georgia nursing home due to sepsis, feel free to give us a call. Our consultations are always free.
Is sepsis contagious?
Sepsis is not contagious. However, the underlying infection that caused the sepsis (i.e., viral, fungal, or bacterial) may be contagious.
The particular organisms, bacteria, or viruses associated with sepsis have their own contagious periods. Some are more aggressive than others. As such, some infections may remain contagious through the stages of sepsis. Therefore, nursing home staff must implement policies and procedures that reduce the spread of pathogens in the facility.
Nursing home infection control policies include the following:
- Routine Hand Washing with Antibacterial Soap
- Sterile gloves and masks use
- Linen services
- Cleaning services with regular rounding
Is sepsis painful?
Yes. Symptoms of sepsis and septic shock range from extreme discomfort to excruciating pain. In fact, the pain can be so intense that morphine may be prescribed. Even after a nursing home resident survives sepsis, there is an increased chance of chronic pain.
How dangerous is sepsis in the elderly
Sepsis is more dangerous to the elderly than any other population. Although the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, sepsis kills more seniors than any other group, including children.
As detailed below, sepsis is more deadly to seniors because (a) that population is more likely to contract infection and (b) often have compromised health conditions that would make fighting sepsis more difficult.
- More than 60% of residents who develop severe sepsis in the United States are over 65.
- 40% of those with severe sepsis die.
- 75% of all sepsis cases are for persons over 65.
- Sepsis hospitalization rate for those older than 85 is 30x higher than those over 65
- Over 25,000 nursing home residents die each year from sepsis.
In Georgia, sepsis is the 9th leading cause of death with 1565 in 2017. This puts Georgia 8th in the nation on the number of deaths.
Is sepsis nursing home neglect?
Sepsis may be a sign of nursing home neglect. Neglect means did the nursing home do something (or not do something) required by law or ordinary practices?
Most often, neglect cases against nursing homes due to sepsis involve one or both of the following wrongful acts:
- The nursing home negligently caused the underlying infection that lead to sepsis; and/or
- The nursing home failed to undertake sepsis interventions in a timely manner.
Negligently Causing Underlying Infection: Federal and State law require that nursing homes implement infection prevention policies and procedures:
The facility must establish and maintain an infection prevention and control program designed to provide a safe, sanitary, and comfortable environment and to help prevent the development and transmission of communicable diseases and infections.
(a) Infection prevention and control program. The facility must establish an infection prevention and control program (IPCP) that must include, at a minimum, the following elements:
(1) A system for preventing, identifying, reporting, investigating, and controlling infections and communicable diseases for all residents, staff, volunteers, visitors, and other individuals providing services under a contractual arrangement based upon the facility assessment conducted according to § 483.70(e) and following accepted national standards;
(2) Written standards, policies, and procedures for the program, which must include Standard and transmission-based precautions to be followed to prevent spread of infections.
Failing to Undertake Timely Sepsis Interventions. Nearly 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment. Nursing homes may be held liable if staff disregards the obvious signs of sepsis or negligently delays treatment.
Sepsis in nursing home residents
In our experience, sepsis in nursing home residents most often occurs from urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and pressure ulcers. In fact, a recent CDC evaluation found more than 90% of adults who developed sepsis through these conditions.
Health factors that place nursing home residents at risk of sepsis include:
- Co-morbid illnesses (i.e., diabetes, end stage renal disease, etc)
- Exposure to instrumentation and procedures
- Inability to obtain and retain nutrients
- Diminished heart strength
- Age-related decrease in organ function
Nursing home sepsis lawsuits
If your loved one was severely injured or passed away from sepsis in a Georgia nursing home, feel free to reach out to one of our lawyers for a free case evaluation. Here are some lawsuit facts when suing a nursing home:
- Who brings the lawsuit? The resident brings the claim on his or her behalf if alive and competent. Otherwise, the claim may be brought by the individual who has General Power of Attorney or Guardianship. If the resident has passed away due to sepsis, there will likely be two claims, the Estate claim and the Wrongful Death claim. Those claims are brought by the Representative of the Estate and the responsible family member, respectively.
- How long to file the lawsuit? The Statute of Limitations for nursing home neglect in Georgia is typically two years. Sometimes, those time periods may be shortened or lengthened.
- How long does a lawsuit take? Lawsuits in Georgia can take as long as three or four years to go to verdict. Sometimes, resolution can come quicker through mediation or arbitration.
- What type of recovery is available? Typically, juries are allowed to compensate the resident and resident’s family for pain and suffering, medical bills, funeral costs, and loss of life.
- Where is the lawsuit filed? Typically, the lawsuit is filed in the country where the nursing home operates. However, there are often many, many venues in which the lawsuit may be brought. Depending on the facts of the case, venue may be somewhere other than the nursing home’s location.
Sepsis lawsuit against nursing homes
Defendants in a sepsis lawsuit may include the nursing home, its corporate office, its management company, individual owners, and specific members of staff. Each case is different and require analysis of the liability of each person or entity.
How is sepsis caused by nursing home neglect or abuse?
Clearly, many nursing home residents are at greater risk of developing sepsis due to their age and weakened immune systems. When nursing homes neglect their duty by providing inadequate care, using medical equipment improperly, or failing to guard against infection and the spread of disease, residents often suffer. This may happen when caregivers fail to wash their hands frequently enough or allow a resident with a compromised immune system into contact with another resident who has a contagious disease or infection. It may also happen when caregivers neglect standard infection control practices in dealing with catheters, feeding tubes, or IVs.
What should a nursing home do to prevent sepsis?
To prevent sepsis, nursing homes should treat infection promptly, watch for warning signs, and limit their use of catheters and similar devices. Nursing home regulations for Georgia specify that a nursing home should never use a urinary catheter unless a resident’s condition absolutely requires it. In this case, nursing homes must use catheters in such a way as to minimize infection, which means caregivers should keep the catheter clean, carefully manage fluid flow, and regularly reassess the resident to check for signs of infection.
Nursing homes can also minimize the spread of germs by training caregivers to use gloves and wash their hands frequently, especially when treating infected residents. Nursing homes should isolate residents who have contagious diseases. In addition, nursing home staff should promptly treat injuries and pressure ulcers which have the potential to become infected.
Can the nursing home be held responsible for sepsis?
Because a nursing home has a legal duty of care towards its residents, by Georgia law, a nursing home can be held responsible for sepsis if the nursing home failed to use reasonable care to prevent sepsis. Sepsis is potentially life-threatening, is a common problem among elderly adults, and is often preventable, so nursing homes have little excuse for failing to watch for sepsis and treat it quickly when it arises.
If a nursing home is held responsible for sepsis, then that facility may be legally required to pay damages to the injured party (the resident who suffered from sepsis). Damages include money for medical expenses related to the infection, and money for any pain and suffering the resident experienced as a result of the nursing home’s neglect.
If your loved one acquired sepsis in a Georgia nursing home, please feel free to call and speak to an experienced sepsis lawyer today.