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Injured at an Assisted Living Facility

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller concerned about his mom, a resident of an assisted living facility.

He recently read an article from the Denver Post about an incident where a 97-year-old woman froze to death outside an assisted living facility, prompting an investigation and a lawsuit. He understands that the care at his mom’s facility is less than she would receive with nursing home care, but the story prompted many questions.

Assisted living facilities vary in the care provided, and some levels of care are patient-dependent.

But is it reasonable to expect some minimal level of care?

The woman described in the Denver Post was stranded outside in 15-degree weather and snow for five hours in February.

She stepped out of the building in the middle of the night wearing a nightgown, robe, boots, and gloves.

Unfortunately, the door locked shut behind her.

She had the presence of mind to use her walker to navigate the sidewalk until she ran into a 5-foot snowbank. She ditched the walker, climbed over the snow, and crawled 75 feet to a windowed door adjacent to a nurses’ station.

But the nurses reportedly sitting at the desks did not hear her banging on the window.

Such facts smack of negligence, at the very least. But remember, negligence is another name for lack of reasonable care.

In the woman’s case, a state investigation found no violation of facility safety regulations.

Let’s step away from the case of the woman who died, however.

Must an assisted living facility anticipate every dangerous circumstance that potentially could confront a resident?

Fire safety laws would prevent locking the doors from the inside. But alarms could have been placed on the doors. An alarm would have reported an opening of a door. Most movie theaters have such an alarm.

Would reasonable care require a doorbell outside a door set to lock once opened and used to exit?

Such a bell would allow someone outside to signal their presence.

Does the standard of care vary according to what a facility knows about a patient?

What if a facility knows a patient suffers from confusion and needs to be monitored at night for sleepwalking? Should such a patient be tagged as at risk for wandering?

Must a facility have security cameras showing if a patient steps outside?

If so, must the cameras be monitored constantly?

Does the assisted living facility engage in routine periodic room checks? Such checks would disclose a missing patient.

What if facility history shows other patients wandering about at night and exposed to dangers of varied sorts?

A past history of wandering would require more care in most circumstances.

In discussing this issue with the caller, he took our advice to ask important questions like these to the people running the place where his mom lived.

You might consider doing the same if you have a relative at such a facility.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – While there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”