Personal Injury

How lawyers can effect change in troubled nursing homes

By Staff

Families paying out of pocket to protect their loved ones in understaffed long-term care facilities are turning to litigation to recoup those costs if their relatives suffer falls or acts of violence, says Oakville personal injury lawyer Meghan Walker.

When an elderly relative goes into a home, families quickly learn that the levels of support are often not adequate to prevent injuries, says Walker, an associate with Will Davidson LLP.

“I have many clients whose family member moved into a retirement home when they were still quite mobile and independent, needing only minimal mobility support,” Walker tells “Then those minimal supports are not being addressed by staff — and these individuals fall, breaking their leg or hip, and now they’re no longer able to be independent. Suddenly you have all these extra care costs. If you have to hire a private personal support person for $25 an hour for 24 hours a day to supplement the care their family member is already receiving in the facility, it’s very costly.”

When clients bring lawsuits against a home for failing to properly monitor an injured older person, Walker will seek these additional costs, she says. “Often we’ve been successful making the argument that but for the negligence of the home, these additional expenses would not have been necessary.”

The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) recently reported that the number of violent attacks in long-term care facilities is rising, and an Ottawa advocacy group told the coalition in January that a growing number of families are hiring extra staff to protect their loved ones. The OHC report, titled Situation Critical, said resident-on-resident abuse more than doubled between 2012 and 2016.

“Unfortunately, violence in care homes is quite common — more than people would like to think,” Walker says. Often it involves fellow residents who should be receiving psychiatric treatment in hospitals, she says.

“Some residents should never be in a long-term care or retirement facility, to begin with, and they often have psychiatric needs that are not being addressed. The sad reality is that it’s more cost-effective to put someone in a long-term care facility than in a hospital.”

Walker has a handful of clients who have been assaulted by fellow residents.

“The question becomes, why was this person with an untreated psychiatric condition here in the first place? Why were they not getting the proper help they required?” she asks.

Some clients have told Walker they have placed cameras in their loved one’s rooms and witnessed first-hand incidents of violence or neglect.

“My only caution in taking such action is to ensure you notify the facility. There are certain privacy implications if you set up cameras without staff knowledge,” she says.

As baby boomers age, Walker says she expects the trend to more violence in care homes will only increase. She represented the family of an elderly woman in a care home who, upon a visit to the hospital for pneumonia, was found to have fractures not consistent with osteoporosis, but with abuse.

Walker says she’s often asked why she pursues litigation involving injuries or deaths of people who may already be in their late 90s.

“This is something that bothers me,” she says. “It doesn’t mean there’s no merit to their lawsuit just because the patient is older or has passed away. These cases absolutely have value. We need to make sure that this stuff stops happening. And one of the ways you effect change is through litigation.”

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