Many times, a slip-and-fall is embarrassing at worst. But among older people, the consequences are much more serious. Among people between 65 and 84, falls are the second-leading cause of injury-related death. Survival often means a permanent stay in a nursing home, as the majority of older adults who fall can no longer live independently.
Due to the serious injuries which nursing home fall victims sustain, Buffalo, MN lawyers are often able to obtain substantial compensation in these cases. These damages usually include compensation for medical bills and other economic losses, as well as pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses.
Why Nursing Home Falls Happen
Senile Gait Disorder affects almost everyone over 70. Many of these individuals lose more than 20 percent of their stride length, overall balance, and gait velocity. Minimal obstructions, like a slightly-uneven floor or a somewhat loose tile, can cause a fall. Furthermore, if SGD victims see hazards ahead, they are less able to walk around them. That’s an ability which many younger people take for granted.
Wandering is a problem as well. Many nursing home residents gradually lose their mental awareness as well as their physical dexterity. Often, wandering leads to elopement, which simply means walking out of the facility without an escort. Other times, wandering leads to falls. Older residents may not be able to see or understand warning signs like “Construction – Keep Out.”
Finally, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is sometimes an issue. As we age, our retinas let in less light, so our vision becomes compromised. AMD often sets in suddenly and with little warning. So, a resident’s vision may be fine at a screening and be severely limited only a few months later.
Minnesota, like most other states, uses a common-law classification system to determine legal duty in slip-and-fall cases. The categories are:
- Invitee: All nursing home residents are invitees. The owner specifically permits them to be on the land, and the owner receives a benefit because of their presence. In this case, that benefit is economic. Legally, if the victim was an invitee, the owner has a duty to keep the property reasonably safe.
- Licensee: A Buffalo, MN lawyer could argue that nursing home guests, like family members of residents, are invitees. In most cases, visitors make residents happy, and that happiness benefits the owner. But this connection may be too indirect. So, these individuals are probably licensees. These people have permission to be at the facility, but the owner receives no benefit. If the victim was a licensee, the owner has a duty to warn of latent (non-obvious) defects.
- Trespasser: In a nutshell, trespassers have no permission to be on the land and do not benefit the owner. Therefore, there is no legal duty. The insurance company may argue that a resident or guest in a construction zone has no permission to be in that specific place. But the other prong – no benefit – may not apply.
In premises liability situations, the owner usually has a duty to ensure the property is safe as well as a duty to frequently inspect the property.
How Buffalo Injury Lawyers Establish Knowledge
Legal duty and injury are not enough. Victim/plaintiffs must also establish causation and knowledge. In Minnesota, the res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) doctrine is rather broad. So, in fall cases, cause is usually very easy to establish by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Knowledge can be a bit more difficult.
Sometimes, there is direct evidence of actual knowledge. Buffalo, MN lawyers usually uncover these “smoking guns” during discovery.
However, in most cases, the victim uses circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known). Most Minnesota courts use the time-notice rule to evaluate circumstantial evidence. The longer the hazard existed, the more likely constructive knowledge becomes.
Think about a banana peel on the floor. If the victim slips on a yellow peel, that peel probably just fell on the floor, so there is no constructive knowledge. But if the peel was black and gritty as if it had been stepped on a lot, constructive knowledge probably attaches.
Insurance Company Defenses in Nursing Home Fall Cases
Many insurance company defenses in these claims revolve around the assumption of the risk doctrine. This rule excuses liability if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
In non-nursing home cases, this defense is often somewhat effective. But in nursing home cases, it is usually inapplicable. As mentioned earlier, many nursing home residents do not have the same visual or mental capacities as younger people.
Some form of the contributory negligence defense may come into play as well. Insurance company lawyers use this doctrine to shift blame for accidents onto victims. But due to SGD or another similar condition, nursing home victims may be unable to avoid even open and obvious hazards, like an under-construction walkway or a partially-completed stairwell.
Call Today To Speak With An Experienced Buffalo Injury Lawyer From Carlson & Jones
Nursing home falls usually have tragic consequences for victims and their families. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo Injury Lawyer in Minnesota, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.