Pam: Today, we’ll be talking about one of the really sad and disturbing kinds of cases you handle, and that involves injuries and deaths of nursing home residents. How did you get into this kind of work?
Barry: Well, early in my career, I worked for a firm that did a lot of cases involving construction accidents. A lawyer that I was working for decided to dial back his practice, and I moved onto a different firm that did medical malpractice cases. That was really the first place I was exposed to handling cases involving nursing home abuse and neglect work.
One of the things I found which was sort of a parallel between the two is that the business of what they do gets in the way of doing things safely. In construction accidents, for example, a lot of what happens happens due to the rush of trying to get the building up. In a nursing home setting, what happens is that the business of operating the nursing home really overwhelms the staff and doesn’t allow them to deliver the kind of care that the residents really need and they deserve. As a result, a lot of the accidents and injuries that happen involving nursing home residents are really sort of predictable.
When I opened up my own law firm in 2004, one of the things that I really decided I was interested in doing and I really actively sought out as a client base was the families of nursing home residents who were injured and killed in one way or another, whether it was falls or bedsores or some other type of incident that resulted in a serious injury or death.
Pam: Why are these cases so important to take on?
Barry: This really does make a difference in terms of what happens in a nursing home. I can think of at least three cases that I’ve worked on where the nursing home has changed how they’ve done things as a result of the incidents and some of the things that have come out in the investigation of the cases that I’ve handled. They’ve changed policies. They retrained the staff. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to make a big difference in the overall arc of what’s going to happen to somebody in a nursing home.
Pam: Are these medical malpractice cases or …
Barry: There are a lot of parallels between nursing home cases and medical malpractice cases, and certainly in a sense that healthcare is involved and healthcare professionals are involved. But there really are some real differences between the two of them. In most medical malpractice cases, the issues that are involved are focusing on a very specific, acute kind of episode or incident versus, in a nursing home setting, most of what’s happening there really involves chronic long-term conditions and how those things are being managed. So the processes that are being used to treat them are very, very different, and there’s a whole different level of focus and attention to the patient or the resident that’s being given.
Pam: One of the questions I had along those same lines was if nursing home residents are already sick, how many of them actually survive what’s happened to them?
Barry: Well, the sad truth of this is I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of clients I’ve had who have survived what happened to them and been in good enough shape to enjoy the benefit of whatever compensation we’re able to get them as a result of verdict or settlement. But the sad part is is that most of these cases end up being wrongful-death cases. Sometimes the cause of death is something that’s really readily apparent.
I’m working on a case right now where a gentleman fell and broke his neck and died four to six hours after the fall. One of the things that you need to prove in any kind of a case where you’re talking about wrongful death being an issue is that the cause of death is related to the underlying neglect or negligence. There are cases where that relationship is very, very obvious, example as the gentleman who fell and broke his neck.
There are other cases where that relationship between the underlying event and the death is not nearly as obvious. For example, there will be cases where I have clients who fell and broke their hip. As part of having the surgery done to repair the hip, they’re taken off their anticoagulants and then they end up having some type of a cardiac event, a stroke or a heart attack or so forth. Those particular cases, it’s a little bit deeper dive to tie the death to the underlying event, the fall or whatever happened.
There are other cases where they survive the imminent event but the fall or bedsores or whatever it is that’s the subject of the lawsuit really started a downward spiral that ultimately resulted in their passing. In those kinds of cases, it’s a matter of pulling together the various threads that you’ll see in the medical records to tie the death to the underlying incident.