Nursing Home Negligence: New Threats to Plaintiffs’ Rights

In the wake of last year's rejection of damages caps under Illinois law, recently introduced federal legislation seeks to limit non-economic damages in nursing home negligence and medical malpractice claims while reducing the statute of limitations. Yet again, some politicians choose to ignore the evidence that such measures have a negligible effect on overall costs while drastically curtailing individual legal rights.

The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2011 (H.R. 5), introduced in January, would also restrict liability in cases involving unsafe drugs and medical devices. The primary feature of the bill is a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. But this rush to radically alter America's system of civil liability is not without vocal opponents.

A group of 24 state and national consumer and public interest groups recently voiced its strong opposition to the proposed law in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith. The group roundly condemned the short-sighted strategies outlined in the bill, arguing that "caps on non-economic damages do nothing but stop the most severely injured patients from getting adequate compensation." But other aspects of the bill are also very troubling:

  • H.R. 5 would impose a statute of limitations that is much more restrictive than current provisions in many states
  • The bill eliminates the concept of joint and several liability, which allows a plaintiff to obtain full damages from any single defendant who is fully responsible for an injury
  • The proposed HEALTH Act of 2011 limits contingency fee arrangements, which are the only means by which most citizens can afford sufficient representation to oppose insurance company lawyers
  • H.R. 5 would impose a strict new standard for proof of the need for punitive damages, which are often the only way to make the most negligent providers change their ways

Perhaps worst of all, such federal reforms would impose from above the types of "tort reform" that have already been definitively rejected in many states. The authors of the letter conclude with a powerful statement: "Health care reform should not be accomplished by taking away the legal rights of patients who are injured through no fault of their own, or reducing the accountability of those who commit wrongdoing." Every concerned American should contact their Senators and Congressmen to express similar views.

Victims of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Deserve Society's Protection

When a family learns that an elderly loved one or other vulnerable adult has suffered abuse in a facility that was supposed to deliver kind and professional care, anger is a natural reaction. A visiting relative may first suspect nursing home abuse after noticing changes in behavior, signs of physical restraint or bruises. Common signs of nursing home neglect include bedsores, obvious malnutrition and bruises or broken bones due to unsupervised wandering.

Family caretakers and abused residents need access to America's courts to assert their right to justice when bad actors cause harm. With advice from an experienced Illinois nursing home negligence attorney, potential plaintiffs can assess their legal options confident in their knowledge of their rights.