As the elderly population continues to rise, the nursing home population continues to rise as well. Unfortunately, that also means rising levels of nursing home abuse and neglect in Georgia.
Many people believe that “abuse” and “neglect” are synonymous. To an extent, that’s true. Both of them are torts, which is part of an area of law called “negligence.” But in other ways, abuse and neglect are very different. Nursing home neglect involves unintentional injuries. For example, no one intends for a nursing home resident to slip and fall on a slick floor. Nevertheless, if that fall causes injury, the person or entity responsible should have to pay damages.
Nursing home abuse, on the other hand, involves intentional injury. That includes things like kicking or punching a helpless resident.
This uncertainty about key terms is just one of the misconceptions which abound in this area of law. Since Jefferson families have so many questions in these instances, we designed this page as a place where they can find the answers they need.
Moreover, many families do not know where to turn when their loved one is abused or neglected in an area nursing home. So, this page includes valuable resources in this area as well.
One of the best things you can do in the wake of nursing home negligence is to contact an attorney. At Schenk Smith, we are committed to maximum compensation for victims and their families. Typically, this compensation includes money for economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Moreover, we also work for justice in these cases. The world needs to know what happened at the nursing home and your family needs closure.
Suing the nursing home: What to expect
Negligence is an area of civil law, much like a divorce. But there are some key differences. Most marriage dissolutions in Georgia are no-fault divorces. That means, for the most part, that the moving party does not need to “prove” anything. But in a negligence case, the victim/plaintiff must establish abuse or neglect by a preponderance of the evidence.
A “preponderance of the evidence” is Legalese for “more likely than not.” Picture two equally-sized stacks of paper side by side. If a person adds a sheet to the pile on the right, it is taller than the pile on the left. That is the picture of a preponderance of evidence. If the victim/plaintiff’s case (evidence and legal arguments) is just a bit more compelling than the defendant’s case, the jury must return a favorable verdict. More on evidence collection in a moment.
The other major difference between a tort case and a divorce case is money damages, as outlined above. Money alone cannot possibly compensate for the pain and suffering involved in something like a wrongful death. But money can assuage the grief that the family feels. Furthermore, since no one can turn back time, money is the only remedy that any court has the power to award.
Evidence is one foundation of a nursing home abuse or neglect case. In your legal matter, our legal team may collect evidence like:
- Witness Statements: Early in the process, witness statements are usually informal. They’re used solely for internal purposes. Later, during the discovery phase, most of these cases include formal depositions. The witness answers questions from the defense lawyer under oath, just as if everyone was in front of a jury.
- Medical Records: These documents often just contain cold, hard facts. However, it’s not unusual for the doctor or other medical professional to express an educated opinion in these documents as well. This kind of information is what builds successful cases.
- Expert Reports: Sometimes, Schenk Smith lawyers partner with independent medical experts who review files and render an opinion. Other times, most notably in slip-and-fall cases, we may partner with an engineer or other such professional who can explain complex technical topics to the jury.
Every nursing home abuse and neglect case is different. Some settle very quickly with almost no evidence and some take years to resolve. Most of these cases fall somewhere in the middle.
Evidence alone is not enough. The facts in a case are much like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Someone has to put the pieces together to form a picture, and that’s what we do at Schenk Smith. These cases are rather complex, because the individual tortfeasor (negligent actor) is usually not legally responsible for damages in abuse cases. Instead, the nursing home is normally responsible, because of a theory like:
- Negligent Hiring: Nursing homes have a legal duty to hire well-qualified workers. If the facility hired an under-qualified worker, and that decision leads to injury, the nursing home is responsible. Special rules often apply if the tortfeasor had a criminal record. In brief, a criminal past does not always mean that a worker was unqualified.
- Negligent Supervision: A long-term care facility cannot simply hire workers and then ignore them. The nursing home has a continuing duty to closely supervise its employees. That’s especially true if they interact with residents in any way, shape, or form.
Once we plug the facts into an appropriate legal theory, your claim for damages is much easier for the jury to follow. Therefore, there is a greater probability that the jury will return a favorable verdict.
Will the case go to trial?
At Schenk Smith LLC, we always assume that every case will go to trial. We diligently prepare your case from start to finish.
Statistically, however, about 75 percent of tort cases settle out of court. In some jurisdictions, the percentage is much higher. In most cases, resolving a nursing home abuse or neglect case with an out-of-court settlement is a good thing. For the most part, this process is much less time-consuming. So, you get justice and compensation sooner than you would otherwise. Furthermore, trials are risky. No matter how compelling the victim/plaintiff’s evidence is, there is no way to predict what a jury will do. Finally, while trials make very compelling scenes in movies and TV, the real-life ones aren’t nearly that dramatic.
Still, the emotional closure that comes with a trial is sometimes a necessary thing. The fact that the victim/plaintiff does not get a “day in court” is one of the downsides of an out-of-court settlement. This drawback is especially bad if the settlement terms are confidential or the paperwork contains a gag order. These provisions are very common. Finally, the parties may simply be too far apart on damages to settle the case.
Largely to deal with that last drawback, most Jackson County judges order nursing home negligence cases to mediation. This process is a way to avoid trial. For the most part, judges do not like trials either, because they consume so much of the court’s time and resources. So, the law basically presumes that settlement is good for everyone.
Prior to mediation, a neutral third party reviews the pleadings in the case to become familiar with the issues. This party is usually either an elder law attorney uninvolved in the case or a retired judge. Typically, either both parties agree on a mediator or the judge appoints someone.
Most mediation sessions last a full day. At the beginning, each attorney gives a brief opening statement. Then, the parties retire to separate rooms as the mediator conducts shuttle diplomacy. This person goes from one party to the other, conveying settlement offers and counteroffers. All the while, the mediator presses the virtue of settlement, such as more control over the outcome and lower cost.
If the mediator successfully engineers a settlement, which happens most of the time in most jurisdictions, the lawyers for each side file final paperwork. If the mediator fails, the case continues.
This process usually takes place informally as well. Attorneys often exchange settlement offers over the course of a case.
Schenk Smith are Jefferson nursing home lawyers
Whether your nursing home abuse or neglect claim settles before the fighters enter the ring or it goes all the way to Round Twelve, we fight for you. Like a professional boxer, we train hard. We collect compelling evidence and put it together using all our considerable legal skill. Also like a professional boxer, we have a plan. Instead of just mindlessly throwing punches, we know when and where to hit the opponent.
We are not just aggressive attorneys. We are also compassionate lawyers. We understand your pain and suffering, and we are committed to the Jackson County community. So, whether you live near the Crawford W. Long Museum, Winder Highway, or Jefferson City Lake, we are on your side. If necessary, we can come meet you at your home or any other convenient place.
Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect in Jefferson, Georgia – What you need to know.
Jefferson, Georgia is in Jackson County. It has a population of 9,946 residents. Of those, 14.10 percent are over 65. Nursing home abuse is just as common in communities like Jefferson as it is in other parts of the state.
Will the nursing home take it out on my loved one if I report abuse?
Fear of retaliation is an issue we deal with very often at Schenk Smith. It’s one of the leading reasons why so few nursing home abuse and neglect victims report these instances to authorities, nursing home management, or even their own loved ones.
The family members share this fear as well. The concern is a very serious one. Your loved one is basically at the mercy of nursing home staff. And, if abuse or neglect has occurred once, it could well happen again. There are two primary ways to deal with this fear.
- As outlined below, many Jefferson families relocate their loved ones to another nursing home. It is still possible for the staff to retaliate against former residents, but such instances are very, very rare. The relocation expenses required, along with any contract termination fees with the existing facility, are usually compensable.
- Relocation is not always the best option, for whatever reason. In these situations, we often go to court to obtain additional protection for your loved one. Many times, the order we obtain is something like a protective order in a domestic violence case. Of course, a piece of paper cannot prevent abuse or neglect. But, that piece of paper does give us the means to fight back against any additional abuse or neglect. Plus, nursing homes usually take such orders very seriously.
To continue with this point, in our experience, the opposite of retaliation sometimes happens. The nursing home becomes so concerned over potential liability that they treat the victim with extra care and attention. Sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes that is a bad thing. It just all depends on the situation.
The bottom line is that no lawyer, or anyone else, can 100 percent guarantee that your loved one will not face retaliation. But what we can guarantee is that we will make the nursing home pay dearly if such retaliation does occur. Quite frankly, that’s the best guarantee you will probably get and it’s not one that is available from many other attorneys.
My loved one was badly hurt after a fall. Is the nursing home responsible?
Oh yes. Legally, most falls are in an area of law called premises liability. Essentially, the landowner usually has a duty to keep the property in good condition so as to keep people from being hurt. Most nursing home falls occur because of defective property conditions, such as:
- Wet Spots: Liquid on the floor is hazardous for anyone, but it’s especially hazardous for older adults who have limited mobility.
- Uneven Flooring: These cases often involve one of the aforementioned expert witnesses. The engineering theory itself is a little too complex for a country lawyer to understand. Basically, even slight changes in elevation throw off the victim’s gait, often triggering a serious fall.
- Insufficient Warning: When most of us see a sign that says something like “Construction; Keep Out,” we turn around and walk the other way. But a nursing home resident may not be able to read and understand a sign like that. In this case, reasonable care demands more, such as closing off the area altogether.
“Reasonable care” is almost always the duty which applies in nursing home premises liability cases. Nursing home residents are invitees. They are at the facility because of the owner’s express invitation. Furthermore, their presence benefits the owner economically. Such an invitation, and such a benefit, is the classic definition of an invitee.
Loved ones who visit nursing home residents may be considered invitees or licensees. Visitors clearly have permission to be on the property. But do they confer a benefit on the owner? Arguably so, because their presence makes the residents happier. However, many judges may consider that analysis to be a stretch. If a visitor is a licensee, which is a lesser category (permission but no benefit), the owner only has a duty to protect against latent (hidden) defects.
Owners usually owe no duty to trespassers (no permission and no duty). For the most part, those stories about injured burglars who sue homeowners are just urban legends.
Duty alone is not enough. The victim/plaintiff must also establish knowledge in premises liability cases. Sometimes, there is a “smoking gun” and direct evidence of actual knowledge. That could be a construction work order or a hallway maintenance report.
Usually, however, the victim/plaintiff uses circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) to establish this point. Most Georgia courts use a variation of the time/notice rule to determine constructive knowledge.
The time/notice rule first appeared in a case called Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company in 1911. In that case, the victim slipped and fell on a banana peel. Significantly, witnesses said the peel was dirty, gritty, and black. The court later rules that the owner’s constructive knowledge was tied to the color of the peel:
- Yellow Peel: The hazard had just appeared, so no liability attaches. The owner could not have known about it.
- Black Peel: If the hazard had been on the floor for quite some time, the owner should have known about it and should have cleaned it up.
- Brown Peel: Pardon the pun, but a brown peel is in a grey area. The victim/plaintiff needs to produce more evidence to establish constructive knowledge. That could be evidence that an employee saw the dangerous condition and did nothing about it.
Falls are a serious problem in Jefferson-area nursing homes. Over half of nursing home residents fall, and most of these victims are repeat fallers. These incidents are the leading cause of injury-related death among people over 65.
Where do I research if this nursing home has failed inspections before?
Of all the questions we hear at Schenk Smith, this one may be one of the most common ones. We’ve included the link to the Nursing Home Compare website below. It contains a lot of information about area nursing homes, including their inspection history.
Bear in mind, however, that the inspection history sometimes gives an inaccurate picture of conditions at the nursing home. Procedure varies by different inspection agencies and even different inspectors within the same agency. But many times, if inspectors find violations, they do not issue citations straightaway. Instead, they issue warnings and give the nursing home an opportunity to cure the problem. So, no “failed inspection” appears on the record.
Furthermore, nursing homes are very adept at cleaning things up just before the inspection. Most agencies conduct “surprise” inspections. But typically, the facility has at least some warning. For example, the facility might know to expect an inspector in a particular month.
Finally, nursing home inspections usually involve some legal and procedural issues. If the victim/plaintiff introduces evidence of a prior failed inspection, the judge will probably allow evidence of subsequent remedial measures. That’s Legalese for “improvements the nursing home has made.” Sometimes, it’s not a good idea for the jury to hear such evidence, because it is confusing.
My loved one was hurt in a Jefferson nursing home- What do I do next?
Accumulating evidence of abuse and neglect is only part of the solution, as is applying the correct theory. We also need to take action. Some key steps are outlined below.
First, report the incident to the appropriate Georgia authorities
The Georgia Department of Community Health’s Healthcare Facility Regulation investigates claims of nursing home abuse and neglect. This agency also regulates and certifies nursing homes in Jefferson, GA.
You can file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Community Health, Healthcare Facility Regulation online by clicking this link. Some additional contact information is:
Georgia Department of Community Health, Healthcare Facility Regulation
2 Peachtree Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
Tel: (800) 878-6442
Fax: (404) 657-5731
You can file a complaint with the Georgia Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman online by clicking on this link. Here is some additional contact information:
Georgia Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman
East Ombudsman Program
135 Hoyt Street
Athens, GA 30601-2646
Tel: (706) 549-4850
Fax: (706) 227-8337
You may also report physical assault or abuse to local law enforcement
For abuse occurring in a Jefferson, Georgia nursing home, report the crime to one of the offices below.
1010 Washington St.
Jefferson, GA 30549
Tel: (706) 367-5231
555 Stan Evans Dr.
Jefferson, GA 30549
Tel: (706) 367-8718
5000 Jackson Parkway, Ste. 160
Jefferson, GA 30549
Tel: (706) 387-6288
Find another facility for your loved one
Not all nursing homes are created equally. But it is sometimes difficult to tell one from another based on a cursory inspection. So, you need a resource that provides objective information about the facilities in your area. If abuse or neglect occurred once at a Jackson County nursing home, it is likely to occur again. Relocating your loved one usually needs to be a high priority in these cases.
Click here to go to the Nursing Home Compare Website. This site has a very nice layout that’s easy to scan. It also conveys lots of relevant data without muddying things up with items you don’t particularly need. To make things even easier, we have included some information about facilities located in or near Jefferson, Georgia. That information is located below.
Get the medical records from the hospital and the nursing home
If evidence in nursing home abuse and neglect cases is like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the nursing home’s medical records are like the corner and edge pieces. After securing and reviewing these records, the rest of the puzzle is much easier to fit together. So, one of our first calls is to the nursing home’s records division. That’s a call that you can make as well.
There are usually hospital records as well. They are as important as the facility’s records and also just as hard to obtain. Like the nursing home, the hospital will probably use privacy laws as a way to keep you from getting the records. You must be determined. Start with the two facilities that are closest to Jefferson nursing homes:
Begin the probate process if your loved one has passed away
In wrongful death cases, there is an additional legal hurdle. Whether or not your loved one had a will, a court must legally designate you as the decedent’s authorized representative. This process is called probate.
Jackson County Probate Court
5000 Jackson Parkway
Jefferson, GA 30549
Nursing Homes in Jefferson, Georgia
Moving your loved one to a local nursing home is usually the least disruptive alternative for everyone involved. Some possible destinations in the Jefferson area include:
263 East May St.
Winder, GA 30680
Overall Rating: 1 out of 5 (Much Below Average)
Number of Beds: 163
Number of Residents: 125.7
RN hours per resident per day: 10 min (GA Avg: 24 min)
Health Inspections Rating: 1 out of 5 (Much Below Average)
Staff Rating: 1 out of 5 (Much Below Average)
Quality Measure Rating: 3 out of 5 (Average)
Most Recent Health Inspection Date: 11-28-2017
Number of Health Citations: 9
Average Number of Health Citations in Georgia: 3.2
Number of Complaints in previous 3 years resulting in citation: 1
Federal fines in previous 3 years: 0
880 Ridgeway Rd.
Commerce, GA 30529
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 (Average)
Number of Beds: 70
Number of Residents: 66
RN hours per resident per day: 12 min (GA Avg: 24 min)
Health Inspections Rating: 3 out of 5 (Average)
Staff Rating: 3 out of 5 (Average)
Quality Measure Rating: 4 out of 5 (Above Average)
Most Recent Health Inspection Date: 11-28-2017
Number of Health Citations: 0
Average Number of Health Citations in Georgia: 3.2
Number of Complaints in previous 3 years resulting in citation: 0
Federal fines in previous 3 years: 0
Why Choose Schenk Smith as your Nursing Home Lawyers?
Probably due to the preference for out-of-court settlements, many nursing home negligence attorneys look for the easy way out. If the defendant’s settlement offer is “good enough,” they advise their clients to take it.
That will not happen at Schenk Smith. Since we only handle nursing home abuse and neglect cases, we handle them very well. We are ready to go the distance every time we take a case. That tenacity sets us apart from the rest.