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Who is Responsible for Wrongful Deaths in Nursing Homes?

— July 5, 2022

Those facilities that use independent contractors to care for patients can argue that a negligent doctor is not their employee, and therefore they are not liable. 

When a loved one dies while in the care of a nursing home, rest home, convalescent home, or any other long-term care facility due to negligence or medical malpractice, it may be hard to determine who is liable. The first thought is often that a person – doctor, nurse, or medical professional – made a mistake or acted wrongly. However, the facility itself can be held accountable when neglect, negligence, or abuse on the premises causes harm to a patient that results in death. 

Who Is Liable For Nursing Home Negligence And Wrongful Death?

If there is medical negligence or wrongful death that occurs in a nursing home setting, the facility may be found liable for a nursing home lawsuit when any of the following cause injury or death to the patient: 

  • Understaffing
  • Negligent hiring
  • Breach of regulatory or statutory obligations
  • Inadequate training
  • Medication errors

Additionally, a nursing home is vicariously liable for its employees’ bad acts, which generally covers the actions taken in the scope and course of employees’ job duties. 

Sometimes, third parties can be held responsible for the abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident. Nursing home facilities often hire independent contractors to outsource various tasks onsite. If it is proven that neglect or abuse occurred on the part of one of those third parties, and a patient suffered injury or death as a result, the third party may be held legally accountable, and therefore responsible for damages.

Elderly Man Sitting in a Nursing Home
Elderly Man Sitting in a Nursing Home; image courtesy of Thomas Bjørkan via Wikimedia Commons,

Is The Doctor An Employee Of The Nursing Home Company?

Most of the time, the nursing home physician you see is not an employee of the nursing home company but rather an independent contractor with no employment relationship with the facility. However, some nursing homes do employ physicians as actual employees. It’s important to know which is the case if you believe your loved one’s death results from medical negligence. 

Generally speaking, if an employee of the nursing home company acts negligently and causes a resident’s death, the mistake is imputed to the facility. That means that it doesn’t matter if the negligence was perpetrated by a nurse, medical assistant, doctor, or another staff member. If the nursing home employs them, then you can file a claim against the nursing home. Nursing homes that operate this way will typically take the necessary steps to ensure that good care is provided to patients to avoid being sued. 

However, those facilities that use independent contractors to care for patients can argue that a negligent doctor is not their employee, and therefore they are not liable. 

Can I Sue A Nursing Home Doctor For Malpractice?

You can sue independent contractor doctors if there is negligence on their part at a nursing home. If the doctor who saw your loved one at the nursing home facility was negligent and your family member died as a result, you can sue the doctor independently. 

Many nursing homes assign a doctor to patients when they are admitted. Family members often don’t have a choice in the matter, as the nursing home doesn’t allow their patients’ normal primary care physicians to visit them at the facility. It isn’t always clear whether the doctor is an actual employee of the nursing home or an independent contractor. Don’t be afraid to ask. It may make all the difference should something ever go wrong with your loved one’s care. 

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