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When Nursing Home Violence Results in Injuries, Death

Resident-on-resident violence, which is more prevalent in dementia units, is resulting in injuries and death for some elderly people in Illinois nursing homes. Residents may be the victims of sexual assaults, physical assaults and verbal abuse from others who live in the homes. When these attacks happen because of negligent supervision by the nursing staff, victims may be able to hold the nursing homes liable for their losses.

How Prevalent is Nursing Home Violence?

Researchers and gerontologists at Cornell University conducted a five-year study to try to determine how frequently resident-on-resident violence happens in nursing homes. The study included 2,000 participants who were living at 10 large nursing homes in New York in both the suburbs and in urban areas. It found that 20 percent of residents reported suffering some form of abuse by their peers. Among the residents, 16 percent reported being verbally abused, 1.3 percent reported being sexually abused and 6 percent reported being physically assaulted by other residents. In addition, 10.5 percent of the residents reported that they had been the victims of other forms of mistreatment such as their peers coming into their rooms uninvited and going through their possessions. The researchers in the Cornell study also found that assaults happen with much greater frequency in dementia units.

Nursing home violence can cause serious injuries or even deaths. In a recent case in South Dakota, a patient with a prior history of assault was left alone with another resident momentarily. When the worker heard a thud and returned to the room, she found an 83-year-old woman had been knocked to the floor out of her wheelchair. The assaulting resident was standing over her. The woman died of a fractured skull from the attack. This attack happened in a dementia unit.

The Duties of Care

Nursing home staff have a duty of care to act in a reasonable manner to protect the safety of the residents. When patients have histories of assaulting other residents or staff members, staff should not leave them unsupervised in the company of other residents. Nursing home staff should report all violent incidents so that they can be properly addressed. When nursing homes fail in these duties, they may be liable when violence causes injuries or death.

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