A Guide to Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Lawsuits in New Jersey

Entrusting the care of a family member to a nursing home or other facility is rarely easy. But often, we believe it’s the best choice for the health and well-being of our loved one. And we fully expect that their caregivers will keep them safe, ensure that their needs are met, and treat them with dignity and respect. 

Sadly, elder abuse and neglect is a widespread problem. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), at least one in 10 community-dwelling adults experienced a form of abuse in the prior year. Residents in nursing homes and other institutions also suffer high levels of abuse. 

In fact, the actual rate of elder abuse in all settings is likely even higher than the numbers suggest due to underreporting. By some estimates, for every incident of abuse that’s reported, nearly 24 additional cases go undetected. 

If you suspect your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, this guide can help you better understand your legal options. However, in all cases, it’s important to consult with a qualified New Jersey lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will review the specific facts of your case and help identify the best path to justice for your loved one. 

Nursing home abuse vs. neglect

Nursing home abuse and neglect both cause harm to the health and well-being of the victim. But they do so in different ways. 

Abuse refers to the intentional infliction of harm. Examples include:

  • Physical abuse, such hitting, kicking, shoving, burning, and other forms of assault 
  • Psychological or emotional abuse, such as bullying, harassing, threatening, isolating, or humiliating the victim 
  • Financial abuse, such as theft of money or property, identity theft, deceiving or coercing the victim into transferring assets, or faking affection in order to influence the victim to transfer assets
  • Sexual abuse, such sexual assault, unwanted sexual advances, forced nudity, sexual photography, or other sexual activity with a victim who does not expressly consent or does not have the capacity to consent

Neglect, on the other hand, refers to the failure of a caregiver to properly tend to the needs of a person in their care. Examples of neglect include the failure to:

  • provide adequate food and water
  • properly administer medication (such as giving the wrong drugs, giving drugs at the incorrect time, overmedication, or undermedication) 
  • maintain cleanliness and proper hygiene
  • properly care for bedridden residents, resulting in bedsores, pressure ulcers, or infections
  • supervise residents prone to wandering
  • provide safety measures such as bed rails
  • prevent other residents or third parties from harming a resident
  • safely move residents (such as when staff moves a resident between a bed and wheelchair or helps them in and out of a bathroom)
  • monitor, diagnose, and treat medical conditions (a form of medical malpractice)
  • identify individual fall risks and take proper precautions
  • keep the property free from dangerous conditions likely to cause slip and fall accidents

According to the NCEA, one review of self-reports by residents estimated the prevalence of abuse as follows:

  • Psychological abuse: 33.4%
  • Physical abuse: 14.1%
  • Financial abuse: 13.8%
  • Sexual abuse: 1.9%

The review also estimated that 11.6% of residents have experienced some form of neglect.

Both abuse and neglect can be the basis for a complaint to authorities, a lawsuit, and/or criminal charges. A lawyer can help you explore all legal options. 

Overview of nursing home abuse and neglect laws in New Jersey

Laws exist on both the federal and state level to protect elderly residents in New Jersey from neglect and abuse. Below is an overview of key laws relating to nursing homes. When pursuing a nursing home lawsuit, these laws can establish the appropriate standard of care for residents.

Federal law 

The Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) from the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA) was passed to protect seniors across the country by setting forth the minimum standard of care for nursing homes. The federal regulations and interpretive guidelines under this law are called the “OBRA standards” and cover nearly every aspect of care in a nursing home. 

The NRHA also established a Residents’ Bill of Rights. Specifically, all nursing home residents have the right to, among other things:

  • participate in their own treatment
  • choose their attending physicians 
  • be treated with respect and dignity 
  • be informed of their rights
  • have personal privacy and confidentiality of personal and medical records
  • live in a safe, clean, comfortable, and homelike environment
  • voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal
  • communicate and access people and services inside and outside the facility

State agencies must regularly conduct unannounced on-site inspections of nursing homes to evaluate the quality of care, quality of life, and the nursing home services. Such inspections must take place at least every 15 months and include resident interviews. Federal regulations require states to investigate complaints regarding nursing homes as well.

If a state finds that a facility is in violation of OBRA standards, the facility must develop a plan of correction and make sure it doesn’t happen again. A facility may also be subject to other remedies, such as:

  • state management of the facility
  • monitoring of the facility 
  • mandatory staff training
  • civil penalties
  • denial of Medicare or Medicaid payments
  • closure of the facility

New Jersey law

New Jersey has state laws designed to protect residents of nursing homes as well. Such laws include the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities and Residents’ Rights Act (NJNHA), which is codified in the New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A.) and in the New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.).

In particular, N.J.S.A. 30:13-3 defines the responsibilities of nursing homes. Under this statute, nursing homes must, among other things:

  • only admit the number of residents for which it reasonably believes it can safely and adequately provide care
  • ensure residents are treated without discrimination
  • ensure that physical restraints are never used for punishment or convenience
  • ensure that drugs and medications are not used for punishment or convenience or in quantities that interfere with a resident’s rehabilitation or normal living activities 
  • allow residents access to personal, social, and legal services 
  • ensure compliance with all state and federal laws and regulations 

The New Jersey Administrative Code also includes laws outlining licensing requirements by facility type. These laws can be found in the sections listed below. They cover various requirements relating to access to care, activities, communication, medical and other services, sanitation, physical environment, staffing, quality of care, and more.

N.J.A.C. 8:39-4.1 specifically covers New Jersey’s bill of rights for nursing home residents. Under this section, nursing home residents have the right to, among other things:

  • choose their own doctor at their own expense or through a health care plan
  • participate in planning their own medical treatment and care
  • be free from abuse and neglect
  • be free from restraint unless ordered by a doctor or advanced practice nurse for a limited period to protect the resident or others from injury
  • manage their own finances or delegate that responsibility to a family member or another individual with written authorization
  • live in safe, decent, and clean conditions
  • be treated with courtesy, consideration, and respect for the resident’s dignity and individuality 
  • have reasonable opportunities for private physical and social interactions 
  • keep information about the resident confidential
  • maintain contact with people outside the facility and meet with visitors of their choice
  • refuse to perform services for the nursing home
  • participate in meals, recreation, and social activities without discrimination 
  • receive written statement of all rights and exercise all rights they’re entitled to under law
  • voice complaints without being threatened or punished

A more detailed summary of the rights of New Jersey nursing home residents can be found here.

Notably, N.J.S.A. 30:13-4.2 explicitly allows a private cause of action for a violation of the rights described above. This means that a victim does not have to rely on government agencies to enforce their rights. Instead, they can sue the nursing home directly to recover actual and punitive damages. The plaintiff can also recover attorneys’ fees and costs if they win. 

For example, in Moody Ex Rel. Gatewood-Gabriel v. Voorhees Care and Rehabilitation Center, the plaintiff was diabetic and suffered a severe hyperglycemic event while in the care of a nursing home. She sued through her power-of-attorney for negligence, alleging that the nursing home failed to properly monitor her sugar level, timely contact a doctor, and get her to a hospital for emergency care. 

The plaintiff also sued for violations of nursing home standards, including her right to care that recognized her dignity and individuality and her right to a safe and decent living environment. The jury awarded the plaintiff $125,000 for the negligence claim, $100,000 for violations of her rights under the NJNHA, and attorneys’ fees and costs, which was upheld on appeal.  

Nursing home oversight entities in New Jersey

In New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is responsible for overseeing nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the state. NJDOH conducts inspections to ensure those facilities comply with the state and federal laws described above. It also has the power to take enforcement actions against facilities. 

For example, as described above under Federal law, if NJDOH finds violations in a nursing home, it can require the facility to provide a plan of correction. Depending on the violation, the NJDOH may also take immediate action, such as ordering the facility to stop accepting new residents, taking over management, revoking the facility’s license, or closing it down. They may also impose fines on the facility.

While NJDOH is the primary enforcement agency in the state, the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman also investigates complaints and advocates on behalf of residents under the Federal Older Americans Act. Complaints may be anonymous, and they’re all kept confidential. 

Unlike the NJDOH, the Ombudsman’s Office doesn’t have enforcement powers. However, they do have unrestricted access to elderly residents of long-term care facilities and their records. 

Once a case is opened with the Ombudsman’s Office, an advocate will make an unannounced visit to the facility. During the visit, they’ll talk to the resident and get permission to proceed with an investigation. The main goal of the investigation is to resolve the problem to the resident’s satisfaction and make sure that the resident is safe and their rights are being upheld.

If the advocate finds or suspects that the resident is a victim of abuse or neglect, they’ll refer the case to a regulatory agency such as the NJDOH and/or a law enforcement agency. That agency will then go through its own internal process before taking action. 

Signs of nursing home abuse or neglect

Despite the laws described above, the standard of care in nursing homes often falls short. In fact, according to the 5-star rating system implemented by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, there are over 100 federally certified nursing homes in New Jersey that are rated “below average” or “much below average.” These ratings are based on health inspections, staffing, and quality of resident care.

Due to physical or cognitive impairments, many nursing home residents are unable to report problems, including abuse or neglect. Or even if they’re able to report mistreatment, elder abuse victims may be reluctant to do so because they’re afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed. Many others simply endure mistreatment because they don’t want to be seen as “complainers.”

As a result, it’s important for family members to be vigilant for signs of negligence or abuse and advocate for their loved ones if needed. Some of these signs are obvious, but others are more subtle. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • unexplained injuries, such as bruises, cuts, burns, or fractures
  • bedsores, pressure ulcers, or infection
  • malnutrition, rapid weight loss, or constant hunger or thirst
  • cracked lips, signaling dehydration 
  • unchanged or soiled clothing or bedding
  • poor hygiene or unsanitary living conditions
  • signs of overmedication, such as lethargy, confusion, or excessive sleeping
  • sudden changes in behavior, such as withdrawal, anxiety, sadness, depression, agitation, or fatigue
  • fear, discomfort, or silence around staff or other residents
  • reports of being confined or restrained
  • signs of sexual abuse, such as veneral disease or infection
  • inadequate staff or poorly trained staff
  • staff refusing or delaying visitors 
  • talk of leaving assets to a nursing home employee or unexplained withdrawals from the resident’s bank account
  • sudden and unexplained death

What to do if you suspect abuse or neglect in a New Jersey nursing home

If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, it’s best to trust your gut and take steps to protect your loved one. Nursing homes often miss signs of neglect and abuse themselves. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an audit in New Jersey revealed that about 311 of 4402 (or about 7%) of hospital claims involving Medicaid recipients from nursing homes were the result of potential abuse or neglect. 

In 220 of 331 of these cases, the facilities failed to investigate and report the abuse or neglect to the state. There were also 616 more claims that may have been the result of abuse or neglect, but didn’t include enough documentation to reach a conclusion. 

In short, it’s often up to the family of victims to advocate on their loved one’s behalf. Below are a few steps you should take if you suspect elder abuse or neglect.

  • If your loved one is in immediate danger or has serious injuries, call 911. You likely know your loved one better than most. So if you feel like the situation is an emergency, you have the right to call 911 to immediately move them from the facility to a hospital for evaluation. Sometimes facilities will tell you that this is against their policies, but this simply isn’t true.  
  • Document everything. First, it may help to talk to the resident about their treatment and make note of these conversations. But as mentioned above, sometimes a resident may be unable or unwilling to discuss any issues. So you should also document any other facts that lead to your suspicion. 

This may include, for example, observations of the resident’s condition and/or behavior or conversations with the staff. It’s also a good idea to take photos and video of any injuries or other evidence, such as living conditions or medications given to the resident. 

  • Get copies of medical records. Medical records are a key piece of evidence for any nursing home lawsuit. Due to privacy laws, it’s not always easy to obtain these records. You’ll need authorization to receive the records and follow specific procedures for getting them. But if you meet these requirements, the nursing home must promptly release the records to you. 

Note that nursing homes may still resist handing over medical records if they fear litigation, so it’s best not to tell the nursing home why you’re asking for them. An attorney can also assist in getting these records if needed.

  • Voice your concerns. You have every right to raise concerns with the facility itself, and sometimes this can quickly put a stop to the issue. Nursing homes often have a social worker or complaint coordinator on staff who can help. 

However, when talking to nursing home staff or administrators, it’s best to keep calm. Don’t make accusations or argue, and don’t mention a lawsuit. This may cause them to become defensive. They may even try to cover up their actions or make it difficult for you to get medical records and other important evidence. 

Instead, simply voice objective facts. You should also make careful note of these conversations, but not in front of the staff. 

Note that investigations by state agencies can take some time to conclude. But if they find violations, it could help support a lawsuit. If you suspect criminal behavior, you can contact the police as well.

  • Consult a lawyer. Although filing a complaint with state agencies is important, as noted above the investigation can take a long time. And the measures taken by the state may not be enough to induce meaningful changes. 

By getting the help of a lawyer and pursuing a legal case, you can put a stop to neglect or abuse much more quickly and effectively — for your loved one, and for other residents going forward. A lawyer can also help make sure your loved one is properly compensated for any losses. 

You should not delay this step, as there are strict deadlines for filing lawsuits. Missing these deadlines will severely limit your options. (See Chapter 2: Finding a New Jersey Attorney for a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Case and Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey —  Statute of limitations for New Jersey nursing home lawsuits.)

Lawyer and his client handshake. Agreement with attorney in office

Finding a NJ Attorney for a Nursing Home Abuse Case

Engaging a New Jersey attorney is one of the most important steps you should take if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect. As noted in the previous chapter, sometimes filing a complaint with state agencies simply isn’t enough to get justice for your loved one. 

By hiring a qualified attorney, you’ll have someone to guide you through the entire legal process and advocate on behalf of your loved one for maximum compensation. Specifically, a good lawyer will:

  • identify all options for enforcing your loved one’s rights;
  • investigate, gather evidence, and interview witnesses;
  • identify all parties who may be legally responsible; 
  • determine the appropriate types and amounts of damages to pursue;
  • negotiate with the defendants and field all other third-party communications; 
  • enlist the help of experts to support the case; and
  • manage legal requirements and deadlines.

Note that to pursue a lawsuit, you must have legal standing. A resident may sue directly, but more often, a trusted family member holding a power of attorney will do so on their behalf. See Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey — Standing in a nursing home lawsuit.

Costs of hiring a lawyer for a nursing home lawsuit

If you’re worried about the cost of attorneys’ fees, keep in mind that personal injury attorneys generally provide free initial consultations. It’s also standard for them to work on a contingency basis. 

If an attorney takes your case on a contingency basis, you won’t have to pay their fees right away. Instead, the attorney will only get paid if they win money for you in a settlement or verdict. Their fees will be a percentage of the award. Sometimes, the court will even specifically order the defendant to pay your attorneys’ fees. If a lawyer working on contingency doesn’t recover any money for you, you won’t have to pay their fees. 

Many attorneys also usually advance litigation-related expenses, such as fees for experts or depositions. If they win money for you, those expenses will be reimbursed from the award at the end of the case as well. 

Since there’s virtually no downside to getting a free consultation, you should do so as soon as you can. If you wait too long to get help, you may miss legal deadlines or make other mistakes. This can seriously damage your case and negatively affect your ability to recover compensation.

What to look for in a nursing home abuse or neglect attorney

When looking for an attorney, it’s important to evaluate your choices carefully. The lawyer you choose can have a big impact on the success of your case. 

Above all, you should look for someone familiar with the many state and federal laws relating to nursing homes. Your attorney should also have experience successfully handling similar cases. An experienced lawyer will be better able to navigate complex legal issues and gather the right evidence. You should feel free to ask about an attorney’s specific experience during your initial consultation. 

Your attorney should also have sufficient resources to see a case all the way through to trial. A lawsuit can be expensive to prepare and litigate, and it can take a long time to resolve — sometimes even years. Since many personal injury attorneys work on contingency, they’ll need adequate resources to cover expenses during this period. To help ensure an attorney is prepared to build the strongest case possible, you should feel free to ask about their resources during the initial consultation as well. 

Other than experience and resources, you should also choose an attorney who’s responsive, communicative, and makes you feel comfortable. After all, if you decide to engage them, you’ll be working with them closely. For more information on how to choose the right lawyer for you, click here.

As mentioned above, many attorneys will provide a free initial consultation. During this consultation, you’ll be able to explain your situation and ask the lawyer questions so you can decide if they meet your needs. The attorney will also ask you questions so that they can determine whether they can take on your case.

When meeting with an attorney for a consultation, you should be prepared to explain why you suspect abuse or neglect. You should also bring any available evidence, such as:

  • a written account of events from you and/or the resident
  • photos or videos relating to the suspect abuse or neglect
  • any other relevant documents or evidence

The attorney will review the evidence and decide whether there’s enough to proceed with a claim. Note that even if you don’t have a lot of hard evidence yet, you shouldn’t wait to schedule a consultation. If an attorney takes on your case, they’ll investigate on your behalf and help gather appropriate evidence. 

Looking for the best nursing home abuse or neglect lawyer in New Jersey?

At Rosenblum Law, we understand the devastating physical, psychological, and financial consequences elder abuse can have on victims and their families. If you suspect your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, we’ll help you identify all options for holding the perpetrators accountable. And if we can take on your case, we’ll fight to uphold your loved one’s rights and help ensure they get the compensation they deserve. 

If we aren’t able to take on your case, we may also be able to refer you to another qualified law firm. We have an extensive network of pre-screened law firms ready to take on nursing home abuse and neglect cases. 

For a free initial consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us online at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about advocating on behalf of our clients to get the compensation that’s rightfully theirs — and we won’t charge any fees unless we win money for you in a settlement or verdict.

Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey

A nursing home lawsuit is often one of the best ways to achieve a sense of justice for an abuse or neglect victim. Compensation is also often necessary to help pay for related medical expenses and other costs. If you decide to proceed with a lawsuit, below is an overview of what to expect.

Keep in mind that pursuing a lawsuit requires a thorough understanding of complex laws and legal procedures. Especially when you’re facing a corporation and their insurer, it’s important to engage an experienced attorney as early in the process as possible. Your attorney’s experience will help even the playing field. Your attorney will also help ensure that you build the strongest case possible and meet all legal requirements.

“Standing” refers to the right of a party to bring a lawsuit. In a nursing home abuse or neglect case, only certain people have standing to sue. If the resident has the capacity to make decisions for themselves, they can sue on their own behalf. But often, victims of elder abuse have physical or cognitive impairments that make this impossible. 

If the resident is no longer able to make decisions for themselves, then a trusted family member usually gets a power of attorney. The power of attorney gives the designated person the right to make decisions on behalf of the victim, including the ability to pursue legal action. 

Note that if the victim has died, a survival action can still be brought by the executor named in the victim’s will. If the victim didn’t leave a will, then usually a family member will be appointed to handle the estate, including any survival actions. Certain survivors (typically the spouse and/or children) may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover certain of their own losses. 

Identifying defendants in a nursing home abuse or neglect case

One of the first steps in preparing a nursing home lawsuit is identifying legally responsible parties. Often, the nursing home itself will be named as a defendant. This is because they are generally in control of its staff, property, policies, and procedures. 

However, depending on the circumstances, sometimes third parties may also be partially or fully responsible for a nursing home resident’s injuries. Examples of such third parties may include:

  • The manufacturer of defective medical equipment
  • An outside contractor that improperly serviced equipment 
  • Negligent vendors (such as those who provided unsafe food)
  • Trespassers who intentionally or negligently caused harm 
  • An outside contractor providing inadequate security to the facility
  • Outside medical providers that contributed to the resident’s injuries 

For example, in Estate of Rhoda Ex Rel. Rhoda v. South Jersey Extended Care, the plaintiff sued a nursing home for failure to 1) adequately monitor and care for the plaintiff’s catheter, which led to an infection, and 2) assess and treat the infection, which led to a partial penectomy. 

While the plaintiff didn’t file a direct claim against any third party defendants, the nursing home filed a motion to join additional defendants. Those third party defendants included Delaware Valley Urology, LLC, which treated the plaintiff before he was admitted to the nursing home. The nursing home alleged that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by their improper assessment, monitoring, and treatment of the plaintiff’s condition by the urology staff. 

Initially, the trial court denied the nursing home’s motion, holding that the long delay before filing the motion would prejudice the plaintiff. However, on appeal, the appellate court reversed, allowing the third party defendants to be joined.

Statute of limitations for New Jersey nursing home lawsuits

Most lawsuits must be filed by a deadline set forth in a law called the “statute of limitations.” Under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, New Jersey’s statute of limitations generally allows a plaintiff to file a claim up to two years from:

  • the most recent act of abuse or neglect, or
  • the discovery of the injury.

For a wrongful death case, under N.J.S.A. 2A:31-3 the deadline for filing a claim is generally two years from the date of death. However, there’s no deadline if:

  • the death was the result of criminal murder, aggravated manslaughter, or manslaughter; and 
  • the defendant is convicted, found not guilty by reason of insanity, or adjudicated delinquent.

With two years to file most lawsuits, it may seem like there’s no need to act with urgency. But starting your case as soon as possible is critical. 

First, it’s possible that other important deadlines may apply to your case. In particular, insurance policies offering valuable compensation often have shorter deadlines. And under N.J.S.A. 59:8-8, before you can file a lawsuit against a public entity or public employee, you must generally file a notice of claim within 90 days from the date of injury. 

“Public entities” include state and local government departments, divisions, and agencies. So if your case involves a government-run entity (such as one of New Jersey’s three state-operated veterans nursing homes in Paramus, Menlo Park, and Vineland), the 90-day notice of claim deadline would likely apply. 

Second, evidence often disappears soon after an injury — whether because it’s removed, lost, or intentionally destroyed. Witnesses may also be harder to find. Losing this evidence can weaken your case and limit recoverable damages. 

And lastly, finding an attorney and preparing to file a case can take longer than you may expect. If a deadline is fast approaching, the likelihood of making mistakes or missing important information increases. It’s much better to start building your case early so that you’ll have plenty of time to build a solid case. 

If the deadline under the statute of limitations passes, your lawsuit will likely be barred. But sometimes exceptions do apply. For example, if a victim is declared mentally incapacitated for purposes of a lawsuit, the clock on the statue of limitations may be stopped for a certain period. To confirm the deadlines for your case, you should consult an experienced lawyer. 

Interacting with insurance companies

Nursing homes usually have insurance policies to help cover liabilities. And sometimes, an insurance company will step in to handle a lawsuit on the nursing home’s behalf. If this happens, the insurance company may try to get in touch with you. However, you are not obligated to speak to them. In fact, it’s best not to talk to them at all. Instead, refer them to your attorney.

Insurance companies exist to make a profit, and as a result, their goal is to pay out as little as possible. To achieve this, they often pressure plaintiffs to settle for amounts well below what’s fair. They also sometimes even resort to using deceptive tactics to uncover information that hurts your case. Unless you know what to look for, it’s easy to fall into a trap or make mistakes.

This is why you should not trust an insurance company to do what’s best for your loved one or offer fair compensation. Instead, let them speak to your attorney. An experienced attorney will know how to handle negotiations and avoid missteps that can damage your case. 

You should also consult your attorney before signing anything that an insurer gives you, such as medical releases or settlement offers. Signing these documents can limit your legal rights and hurt your ability to recover compensation.

Valuing a nursing home abuse or neglect case in New Jersey

Any form of elder abuse or neglect can have devastating consequences for the victim’s life. Victims are at increased risk of hospitalization, disabilities, ongoing medical issues, depression and other psychological issues, and even death. Mistreatment can also have a significant financial impact, whether due to financial abuse or medical costs. A lawsuit can help recover compensation for such losses. 

Since every case is unique, the value of nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuits vary widely. Generally, factors that affect the value of a case include:

  • The type of negligence or abuse 
  • The extent and nature of physical injuries and their impact on the victim’s life
  • The degree of the victim’s pain and suffering, mental anguish, or other suffering
  • The strength of the available evidence

Based on these factors, your attorney will work with experts to determine the amount and types of damages to seek. Like other personal injury cases, potential damages may fall into three categories:

  • Economic damages. Economic damages are designed to compensate for monetary losses incurred in connection with the victim’s injuries. Examples in a nursing home case may include costs for changing nursing homes, hospitalization, medication, medical devices, and more. 
  • Non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are designed to compensate for losses other than monetary losses. Examples include pain and suffering, disability, impairment, and disfigurement. Such damages are more subjective in nature, and therefore more difficult to calculate.
  • Punitive damages. In especially egregious cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. In New Jersey, punitive damages are limited to the greater of five times the total compensatory damages or $350,000. Punitive damages are rare. They are only awarded when the court believes it’s necessary to punish a defendant and/or deter similar behavior in the future.

If the case goes all the way through trial, the judge or jury will decide the final types and amounts of damages. But throughout the legal process, the nursing home and their insurer may offer to settle. You should evaluate any such offer carefully with the help of an experienced attorney. See New Jersey nursing home lawsuit settlements below.

If the victim is still living, any damages will be paid to them (or to a trust for their benefit, if needed). But if the victim has passed, as noted above, a survival action may be filed and the estate will receive any damages. The estate will then distribute the damages according to the will (if there is one) or according to New Jersey intestacy laws.  

If the victim died as a result of abuse or neglect, certain family members (usually the spouse and/or children) may also be able to file a wrongful death claim. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the suing family members can recover certain of their own losses in connection with the death of their loved one. 

Note that if the court awards damages for medical costs that Medicare or Medicaid previously paid, the government can put a lien on the award. This means they are asserting a legal right to receive reimbursement for the amounts they paid. However, Medicare and Medicaid do not have the right to reimbursement from any pain and suffering award or other non-economic damages. Your lawyer should review any liens and ensure that they’re appropriate. 

Elements of a New Jersey nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuit

To prove a personal injury claim, including nursing home abuse or neglect, plaintiffs generally must establish four elements:

  • Duty. First, you have to establish the defendant’s “duty of care” to the victim. In a nursing home abuse or neglect case, this usually refers to the duty of nursing home staff and administrators to act with reasonable care with respect to their residents. Federal and state law can help establish the nature of this duty under the circumstances. 
  • Breach. Second, you’ll have to show that the defendant breached its duty of care. In other words, you’ll have to prove that the nursing home either committed an intentionally harmful act or that it failed to act as a reasonable nursing home would under the circumstances (that is, that it acted “negligently”).
  • Causation. Next, you have to show that if not for the nursing home’s actions (or failure to act), your loved one would not have suffered injuries. In other words, you have to prove that the nursing home somehow caused your loved one’s injuries. Proving this element can sometimes be difficult in nursing home cases, as many residents already suffer from health complications. 
  • Damages. Finally, you have to establish the losses, or damages, that resulted from your loved one’s injuries. This may include economic losses, such as medical expenses, and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. In extremely serious cases, you may also seek punitive damages. See the section above titled Valuing a nursing home abuse or neglect case in New Jersey.

At trial, the judge or jury will decide whether you’ve successfully proved each of these four elements. If you don’t meet certain legal requirements, your case may be thrown out. As you negotiate a settlement with the nursing home, their insurer and legal team will be evaluating each of these elements as well. 

Common evidence in nursing home abuse or neglect cases

Successfully proving the elements above in a nursing home abuse or neglect case requires a great deal of evidence. Depending on the facts of your case, such evidence may include:

  • Medical records, including treatments, prescriptions, doctor’s notes, and lab results
  • Nursing home chart detailing intake records, assessments, care plans, therapist notes, doctors’ orders, daily care entries, and other information
  • Nursing home staff log showing who was working at the time of injury and the staff-to-resident ratio 
  • Compliance surveys evaluating the facility’s compliance with OBRA standards 
  • Results of complaint investigations by state agencies
  • Medicare and Medicaid cost reports showing how money is allocated in the facility and whether sufficient resources were dedicated to resident care
  • Documentation of nursing home policies and practices 
  • Photos/video of your loved one’s injuries or other physical evidence
  • Statements from the victim
  • Witness testimony from family, staff members, other residents, or visitors
  • Evidence of economic losses, such as receipts and bills
  • Evidence of non-economic losses, such as medical and psychological evaluations  

Note that it’s important to begin gathering evidence as soon as possible. Over time, valuable evidence may be lost, destroyed, or tampered with. It may also become more difficult to find witnesses, or they may not remember details. Ideally, you should have the help of an attorney from early in this process. Your attorney will help you identify and gather the necessary evidence.

An attorney can also choose the right experts to provide testimony in support of your case. Expert testimony is a critical part of many nursing home lawsuits. For example, a medical expert’s testimony can help establish the cause and consequences of injuries. A psychology expert can testify to the mental or emotional impact on a victim. Or a nursing expert can help establish industry standards for nursing homes. 

However, it’s important to choose quality experts who can provide testimony with objective support. In Bundy v. Bentley Senior Living at Pennsauken, for example, the plaintiff was injured after falling over his roommate’s walker. He alleged that the defendants were negligent in allowing his roommate’s walker to be left on his side of the room. An expert testified in support of his claim. 

The plaintiff’s expert testified that, among other things, a facility should inspect rooms for tripping hazards “about every hour.” However, she was not able to provide objective support for that standard. As a result, the court excluded the expert’s testimony on that standard, and the defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted. 

Expert testimony can greatly affect the success of a case, including the amount of damages. And chances are, the defendants will also engage experts of their own. To ensure you have access to quality experts, you should engage a lawyer with a network of respected experts ready to assist in your case. 

“Pre-existing condition” defense in New Jersey nursing home lawsuits

Often, residents of nursing homes are admitted with various existing health complications. This can complicate a lawsuit, as the defendant may claim that a pre-existing condition was responsible for the victim’s injuries, and not any act (or failure to act) by the defendant. In other words, they may claim that the plaintiff can’t satisfy the “causation” element described above in Elements of a New Jersey nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuit.

While this is something to be aware of, a pre-existing condition doesn’t mean a lawsuit can’t succeed. Even if a resident had a pre-existing condition, if the nursing home somehow made it worse, they are responsible for the additional harm that they caused. Proving this will require the help of a skilled lawyer. Your lawyer will work with medical experts and gather the right evidence to establish the harm caused by the defendant.

New Jersey’s “modified comparative negligence” rule 

Sometimes, it’s possible that more than one party is responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. In these cases, New Jersey courts apply the “modified comparative negligence” rule. This rule says that if a plaintiff is partially at fault, their damages will be reduced in accordance with their percentage of fault, up to 50%. If the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, they can’t recover damages at all. 

As an example, if a victim incurred $50,000 in damages, and they were 10% at fault, their award would be reduced to 90% of the damages, or $45,000. But if they were 51% at fault, they wouldn’t recover any damages at all. 

Because this rule can help reduce or even eliminate damages, defendants may claim that the victim is fully or partially at fault for their injuries. You should be prepared for this possibility, but keep in mind that allocating fault is not a precise calculation. So you should not make any assumptions about who will be found at fault in your case. Instead, you should get the help of an experienced lawyer who can work with experts to make sure fault is fairly allocated. 

The lawsuit process in New Jersey

For many, the idea of going through a lawsuit is overwhelming and stressful. This is normal, and yet another reason why having a good attorney is important. Your attorney will handle the majority of the process on your behalf. They’ll submit all filings and paperwork, make sure you meet deadlines, conduct negotiations, field communications with other third parties, and, of course, bring your case to trial if needed.

You can find a summary of the steps in the legal process here. How long it takes to go through this process will vary from case to case. Going through trial all the way to a verdict can sometimes take years. But as discussed in the section below, a settlement can help resolve a case much sooner. Still, settlements don’t always happen quickly — in fact, sometimes they take many months or even years. And there’s also the possibility that a settlement will never be reached. 

To better understand what to expect in your case, you should discuss the process with your attorney. Part of your attorney’s job is to guide and advise you so that you’re prepared for each stage of the process. 

New Jersey nursing home lawsuit settlements

In many lawsuits, the parties resolve the dispute outside of court, before a trial verdict. This is called reaching a “settlement agreement.” Settlements are usually preferred by both plaintiffs and defendants. This is because they can be reached much more quickly than going through the entire trial process. Litigating a full trial is also much more expensive, and there’s always some degree of risk involved for both sides.

Settlement negotiations often start from the beginning of a lawsuit and continue until the case is resolved. Settlements can be reached directly, or sometimes the parties agree to mediation. Mediation is a process where a neutral third-party (called the “mediator”) helps the parties reach a mutually satisfactory resolution.  

Whether negotiating directly or going through mediation, it isn’t easy to reach a settlement that satisfies both parties. The goal of defendants is to reduce the payout as much as possible, so it’s common for them to present very low offers, especially early on. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, will seek maximum compensation. 

Once you accept a settlement offer, you give up the right to continue pursuing the case in court. This means you should never sign a settlement agreement before consulting with your attorney. Your attorney will help you evaluate each offer and decide whether to accept it. You can find more information about settlements here.

women receives compensation from insurance

New Jersey Nursing Home Lawsuit FAQs

Below are some common questions about nursing home abuse or neglect cases in New Jersey. But every case is different. So if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, you should consult a qualified New Jersey lawyer. Your lawyer will be able to answer questions about your specific case and help you decide how to move forward. 

What are the rights of nursing home residents in New Jersey?

Both federal and state laws exist to protect the rights of nursing home residents. For example, residents have a right to (among other things): 

  • be informed of, and participate in, their treatment
  • choose their attending physician 
  • be free from abuse and neglect
  • be treated with respect and dignity 
  • have ​​personal privacy
  • keep personal and medical records confidential
  • live in a safe, clean, comfortable and homelike environment
  • voice grievances without discrimination or reprisal
  • communicate and access people and services inside and outside the facility

See Chapter 1: Introduction — Overview of nursing home abuse and neglect laws in New Jersey for more information about laws protecting New Jersey nursing home residents.

What are the signs of nursing home abuse or neglect?

There are many types of abuse, including physical, psychological, financial, and sexual. Neglect of physical and mental needs also endangers the well-being of residents. Sometimes, residents can tell you about mistreatment. But often, physical or cognitive impairments, fear, shame, or embarrassment can prevent victims from speaking up.  

As a result, it’s important for a resident’s loved ones to look out for signs of negligence or abuse. Signs include, but are not limited to:

  • unexplained injuries, such as bruises, cuts, burns, or fractures
  • bedsores, pressure ulcers, or infection
  • malnutrition, rapid weight loss, or constant hunger or thirst
  • poor hygiene or unsanitary living conditions
  • signs of overmedication, such as lethargy, confusion, or excessive sleeping
  • sudden changes in behavior, such as withdrawal, anxiety, sadness, depression, agitation, or fatigue
  • fear, discomfort, or silence around staff or other residents
  • talk of leaving assets to an nursing home employee or unexplained withdrawals from the resident’s bank account
  • sudden and unexplained death

See Chapter 1: Introduction — Signs of nursing home abuse or neglect for more information.

If you suspect elder abuse in a nursing home, you should follow the steps described in Chapter 1: Introduction — What to do if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect in New Jersey.

Where do I complain about a nursing home in New Jersey?

If you believe your loved one is in immediate danger or the victim of a crime, you should contact 911 or the local police.

Otherwise, if you have an issue with the treatment of your loved one, you have a right to voice your concerns directly with the facility. Sometimes this can quickly put a stop to the issue. 

However, when talking to nursing home staff or administrators, it’s important to keep calm. Don’t make accusations, argue, or mention taking legal action. This may cause them to become defensive. They may even try to cover up any missteps. Instead, simply voice objective facts. You should also make careful note of these conversations, but not in front of the staff. 

If the nursing home doesn’t adequately address your concerns, you can also file a complaint with the New Jersey State Ombudsman and/or the New Jersey Department of Health

In all cases of suspected abuse or neglect, it’s important to consult a lawyer as well. Government agencies will investigate complaints, but it can take some time to influence change. A lawyer can help ensure that your loved one’s rights are enforced more quickly and that they receive the compensation they deserve.

What is New Jersey’s statute of limitations for a nursing home lawsuit?

New Jersey’s statute of limitations generally only gives plaintiffs two years from injury to file a lawsuit. 

Two years may seem like a lot of time, but it’s better to begin the process as soon as possible. Shorter deadlines may apply to your specific case. And over time, key evidence may be lost, destroyed, or tampered with. Finding the right lawyer and building a strong case can also take longer than you may think. 

If you miss the deadline for filing a lawsuit under the statute of limitations, you may lose the right to pursue a lawsuit. But sometimes there are exceptions. So even if you believe the statute of limitations has lapsed, you should still talk to a lawyer. Your attorney will evaluate your case and confirm the deadlines that apply to your case.

See Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey  — Statute of limitations for New Jersey nursing home lawsuits.

How do you prove nursing home abuse or neglect?

To win a nursing home abuse or neglect case, you generally have to establish:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim
  2. The defendant breached its duty of care
  3. The defendant’s breach caused injuries
  4. The losses (or damages) that resulted from the injuries

In a nursing home abuse or neglect case, proving the above four elements will require a variety of evidence. Such evidence may include, among other things, medical records, nursing home charts, witness and expert testimony, and more. 

These elements and common types of evidence are described in more detail in Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey. 

But every case is different. If you suspect you have a case, you should consult a qualified New Jersey lawyer to help evaluate your options. 

What is a typical settlement for a nursing home abuse case in New Jersey?

There is no “typical” settlement for a nursing home abuse or neglect case. The amount of damages varies greatly, depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Generally, however, damages can fall into three categories:

  • Economic damages for out-of-pocket losses, such as medical bills;
  • Non-economic damages for non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering; and
  • Punitive damages, which are awarded in rare cases to punish and deter especially egregious conduct.

It isn’t easy to establish the value of a case without the help of a lawyer. Your lawyer will work with experts to determine the amount of damages to seek in a lawsuit. They can also help evaluate the fairness of any settlement offers from the defendants.

See Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey — Valuing a nursing home abuse or neglect case in New Jersey for more information. 

How long will a nursing home lawsuit take in New Jersey?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to predict the amount of time it will take to resolve any lawsuit. The length of a case depends on many factors, including the number of defendants, the court’s schedule, the strength of the evidence, and the cooperation of the parties.

The process starts with engaging an attorney. The attorney will confirm you’re still within the statute of limitations and review available evidence. If they take on your case, they’ll conduct further investigations and begin putting together your case. They’ll also begin settlement negotiations. 

After a lawsuit is officially filed with the court, the parties will also go through a discovery phase. The parties may file and argue various motions as well. If you can’t reach a settlement during this period, your case will go to trial. This entire process can take a lot of time. If a settlement is not reached, it may take years for the case to go through trial and finally reach a verdict. 

See Chapter 3: Pursuing a Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect Lawsuit in New Jersey for more information about the process of pursuing a nursing home lawsuit. 

How much does it cost to sue for nursing home abuse or neglect in New Jersey?

Lawyers who litigate nursing home abuse and neglect cases typically offer an initial free consultation. It’s also standard for them to take cases on a contingency basis. 

Working on a “contingency basis” means that they don’t require you to pay attorneys’ fees right away. Instead, their fees will only come out of any settlement or verdict award that the attorney wins for you. If they don’t win any money, they don’t get paid. 

Note that there may be other litigation expenses, such as fees for records, depositions, and experts. Many attorneys also cover these expenses up front. If they win money for you, those expenses will come out of the award as well. 

During your initial consultation, don’t hesitate to ask about how fees and expenses will be handled. The fee structure should also be outlined in your engagement letter with the lawyer, which you should read carefully before signing. This will help avoid any unpleasant surprises.

What do I do if I suspect my loved one died as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect in New Jersey?

If your loved one died as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, the personal representative of the estate can typically still pursue a lawsuit on behalf of the victim. Any damages recovered in such a case will go to the victim’s estate and distributed according to the will or New Jersey intestacy laws.

Certain survivors of the victim (usually the spouse and/or children) may also be able to pursue a wrongful death action for their own losses related to the death. 

To better understand your options, it’s important to consult an attorney right away. Cases involving death are especially complex and often aggressively defended, and it’s important to start building a case as soon as possible. 

How do I find a New Jersey nursing home neglect lawyer near me?

New Jersey is home to many personal injury lawyers, so a quick search will likely turn up many options. But to increase your chances of success, you should choose a lawyer experienced in nursing home abuse or neglect. They should also have enough resources to build the strongest case possible and bring the trial to case, if needed. Take advantage of free initial consultations to learn more about any potential lawyer and make sure that you’re comfortable with them representing you.

At Rosenblum Law, we understand the devastating physical, psychological, and financial consequences elder abuse can have on victims and their families. If you suspect your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect, we’ll help you identify all options for keeping loved one safe and holding the perpetrators accountable. And if we can take on your case, we’ll fight to uphold your loved one’s rights and help ensure they get the compensation they deserve. 

If we aren’t able to take on your case, we may also be able to refer you to another qualified law firm. We have an extensive network of pre-screened law firms ready to take on nursing home abuse and neglect cases. 

For a free initial consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us online at www.rosenblumlaw.com/contact. We’re passionate about advocating on behalf of our clients to get the compensation that’s rightfully theirs — and we won’t charge any fees unless we win money for you in a settlement or verdict.

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