According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, Florida has more than 190,000 beds available at hospitals, nurse homes and assisted living facilities. While these beds are not 100 percent filled, a significant portion of our most vulnerable population relies on medical care in these facilities.
While Florida skilled nursing facilities rank among the best in the country, neglect remains a problem. Bedsores pose a problem in nearly every situation that involves a person confined in bed for a long time. Families are often frustrated to learn that their loved ones are suffering from bedsores and want to know how to hold facilities accountable for this neglect. One challenge is determining how much compensation to pursue when filing a bedsore lawsuit.
Why Is It Difficult to Determine the Value of a Bedsore Case?
The simple answer is that nursing facilities have a vested interest in keeping settlements quiet. Unlike car accidents, class action settlements, and other types of settlements, a nursing home neglect or medical malpractice settlement often remains hidden from the public. Nursing homes and hospitals hate bad publicity, so they fight to keep settlements confidential.
Unlike other cases, bedsore cases often settle through arbitration under the terms of the contract that individuals sign when they put their loved ones in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility. The outcomes of these settlements remain hidden from the public, and attorneys cannot discuss these cases with other attorneys or clients.
What Causes Bedsores?
Bedsores are often called pressure sores, a name that stems from the cause of the injury. Pressure causes a blood flow restriction that in turn breaks down the skin.
There are some common areas where bedsores develop, including:
- Tailbone area
- Heels of the foot
- Back of the head
- Back and sides of the knee
Bedsores result from spending too much time in one position—whether that position involves lying down in bed, sitting in a wheelchair, or is due to a cast on an extremity.
Are Bedsores Preventable?
Yes. Bedsores are preventable with diligence and adequate medical care. For immobile patients, nursing staff must reposition the person approximately every two to three hours.
Depending on their medical condition, patients in long-term facilities cannot often communicate with the nursing staff. Patients with limited communication abilities or none whatsoever face a higher risk because they cannot tell a staff member that they are uncomfortable. This is why staff members must know how long someone is unattended, even when the facility is short-staffed.
Nursing staff can prevent bedsores from forming by:
- Repositioning a bedridden patient every couple of hours.
- Knowing that patients in wheelchairs require frequent repositioning.
- Adding padding to wheelchairs or beds to reduce pressure on the patient’s skin.
- Ensuring that skin is clean and dry at all times.
- Ensuring the patient is eating a nutritious diet; this gives the patient the physical strength to heal should a bedsore appear.
There is also a common method used in some facilities known as the Braden Scale. This allows nursing staff to catalog an individual patient’s risk for developing bedsores and may allow healthcare professionals to develop a comprehensive plan for avoiding bedsores.
What Types of Complications Can Result from Bedsores?
Healthcare facilities should not ignore the risk of patients developing bedsores because they are both uncomfortable and dangerous. Some bedsores, usually those classified as stage one, are minor and can heal in days.
More serious bedsores, however, may become infected and can result in more serious problems. Patients can suffer fever and chills, and the infection can spread. Once the infection from a bedsore starts spreading, patients can suffer other problems, including confusion, weakness, and irregular heartbeats.
Infections can also result in serious medical problems including:
- Bone Infection
In rare cases where a prolonged infection does not receive proper treatment, and the patient’s infection expands out of control, the patient could die. If your loved one has suffered any amount of pain from a bedsore, whether it is serious or mild, seek the guidance of a medical malpractice lawyer.
Proper Treatment Is Essential in Bedsore Recovery
Most bedsores will respond to treatment. Healthcare professionals should provide consistent treatment and follow proper medical protocols.
Some treatment steps that a doctor may recommend include:
- Keeping the open wound from a bedsore clean;
- Keeping pressure off the impacted area;
- Dressing the wound with gauze and antibiotics or other ointments;
- Ensuring the victim of bedsores eats properly and stays hydrated;
- Ensuring the wound remains as dry as possible;
- Removing any skin from the bedsore that is damaged or infected; and
- Providing antibiotic treatment if warranted.
Anytime that a facility identifies a bedsore, the injured individual should see a physician to check the wound. Typically, the physician will put a care plan in place. Medical staff must adhere to this plan and should report any signs of the condition worsening to a doctor.
When a nursing facility fails to properly care for a bedsore, the condition may worsen and cause additional problems. If you believe your loved one is suffering because of poor bedsore care, speak with a medical malpractice attorney who has experience with bedsore cases. An attorney can advise you on how to access your loved one’s records to see the care program and whether staff followed it.
Frequent visitors should inquire about diet, wound care, and procedures to minimize pressure on wounds. If you are not happy with the care your loved one is receiving, complain—loudly. If needed, file a complaint, and ask your medical malpractice attorney for additional advice on what steps you can take to protect your loved one.
Bedsores Are Not a Normal Part of Aging Skin
One of the misstatements that you may hear from a nursing home or hospital staff member is that bedsores are a normal part of aging. We all understand that as we age, our skin becomes thinner and more prone to breaking down, but with proper care and attention, bedsores should never occur. Bedsores are painful eruptions that are avoidable if the victim receives proper care. Healthcare facilities have a responsibility to do no harm to their patients; providing care means knowing risk factors for bedsores and taking the necessary steps to avoid such an occurrence.
How Much Is a Bedsore Lawsuit Worth?
As with all medical malpractice lawsuits, every case is different. Someone who suffers a stage one bedsore will likely heal rather quickly. If left untreated, the victim could face a more serious outcome. The worse the outcome, the higher the value of a bedsore case. In all cases, the final value will depend on what the injured party feels is a reasonable settlement and what the at-fault facility is willing to pay for the bedsore claim.
A family member’s lawyer and the hospital or nursing home usually negotiate these settlements.
When the parties cannot settle on their own, other avenues for resolving the dispute include:
- Arbitration – A panel or a neutral arbitrator will look at the facts of the case and may determine the settlement amount. This method generally requires both parties to agree to the amount, but the patient’s family and the facility usually handle negotiations.
- Mediated settlement – The court may order the parties in a bedsore case to enter into mediation. This method requires both parties to speak with the mediator at different times and tell their sides of the story. The mediator then attempts to facilitate a settlement between the parties.
- Bench trial – In these cases, both sides present facts and evidence directly to a judge. Once the judge has heard all of the facts, the judge will render a verdict and announce the award.
- Jury trial – A group of people review the case in court and determine if an award is appropriate, and if so, the amount of that award.
Regardless of the method used to settle a bedsore case, you need an attorney to represent you against powerful healthcare facilities, their insurance companies, and their legal defense teams. The more serious the outcome of the bedsores, the more important legal representation may prove.
Common Damages in Bedsore Cases
Once you determine that negligent behavior resulted in a bedsore and the resulting problems, as with any other medical malpractice case, you must determine what damages to pursue. In general, there are both economic and non-economic losses that you may qualify to recover.
Some of the damages that you may choose to include in your compensation demand include:
- Medical bills – Any medical bills incurred from the time the bedsore was identified through the time the bedsore or associated issues no longer require medical care.
- Pain and suffering – One cannot determine easily how much pain a loved one may experience if they are non-communicative. However, there is a potential in most cases to include pain and suffering in a bedsore claim settlement.
- Out of pocket expenses – Family members may need to contact specialists or hire a private nurse to care for a loved one who is suffering from a bedsore. You can attribute these expenses directly to the victim’s injury and include them in a compensation demand.
- Other possible compensation – Speak with your medical malpractice attorney about other expenses or financial losses that you may have suffered because of caring for a loved one following a hospital or nursing home’s failure to provide adequate medical care.
In those instances where you have lost a family member due to neglect, you may have other rights to collect compensation for loss of support, funeral and burial expenses, and more. Your lawyer can explain your rights under Florida law.
Do I Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in a Bedsore Case?
Regardless of the circumstances that you and your injured loved one face, it is always a good idea to work with a skilled attorney. You want someone to protect your loved one’s rights. Proving negligence is only the first step in holding a facility responsible for the harm caused by bedsores. An attorney who has a history working with cases involving medical professionals who fail to uphold their obligation to provide proper care can help make sure that you know what to expect.
Remember, even if you have an agreement with the facility that requires you to undergo arbitration or mediation before filing a lawsuit, it is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer first. You can learn hospital and nursing home neglect laws, understand the arbitration or mediation process, and, more importantly, how a lawyer can best protect your loved one’s interests during these processes.
Protecting Future Families from Bedsore Complications
Some families hesitate to raise objections to their loved one’s care due to fear that the resident will have to deal with the repercussions of a complaint. However, you need to hold these facilities accountable for their actions or lack of action. Not holding at-fault facilities accountable leaves other patients at risk of a similar fate.
You can make a difference in the lives of others while also making sure that your loved one recovers compensation for the lack of care. Contact a medical malpractice lawyer today and schedule a free consultation. Find out what rights you have and your options to hold the hospital or nursing home accountable.