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Are nursing homes liable when residents hurt each other?

When people make the difficult decision to move a loved one to a nursing home, they are often concerned -- and rightfully so -- about that loved one getting the medications, food, hydration and exercise they need. They want to feel secure that their parent or another family member won't suffer a fall or other injury because someone wasn't there to help them move. They may not consider the possibility that their loved one could be harmed by another resident.

Sadly, however, nursing home residents sometimes are the victims of violence by roommates or others in the nursing home. Some residents suffer from dementia and other conditions that can cause them to be violent. Others may be on medication that alters their behavior. Sometimes, residents simply don't get along, and disputes turn violent.

A person who intentionally harms a fellow resident may or may not be charged criminally, depending on their mental capacity. However, what liability does the facility have for that resident's actions?

It depends in part on whether the resident had a history of violent behavior at the facility or the staff knew that the victim and assailant had a difficult relationship. If two roommates are always fighting, it's best to move one of them before things take a tragic turn, as they did in one case where a 70-year-old man beat his roommate to death with his wheelchair's leg rest.

Nursing homes are stressful for many residents. They've lost their independence. They're living in close quarters with people they don't know and maybe don't like. They may be in pain or at least not feeling well. While nursing home staff can't control everyone's behavior, they have a responsibility to keep residents as safe as possible. Their potential for liability will depend on what they knew -- or should have known -- and what (if anything) they did to prevent anyone from being harmed.

This can take some investigating. Often, other residents are a good source of information. They usually know who the troublemakers are, and which residents aren't getting along. If you're considering holding a nursing home liable for a loved one's injuries at the hands of another resident, an experienced attorney can provide guidance based on the specific situation.

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