Nursing homes exist to provide care for elderly members of society. Many older adults choose to enter a nursing home when they feel that they can no longer safely live alone. The vast majority of nursing homes are clean, comfortable and safe, operated by caregivers with a genuine concern for the well-being of those in their care.

However, not all nursing homes are created equal. Some nursing homes are dirty or dangerous, and some caregivers perform acts of abuse or neglect on the residents in their care. Provided here is a basic guide to the legal issues surrounding nursing home abuse.


Types of Abuse

Nursing home abuse falls into three major categories: physical, mental and financial. Physical abuse may include beating, sexual assault or forced ingestion of medication or food. Neglect also falls under physical abuse, and may include such acts as forgetting or refusing to feed a resident or assist him or her with basic hygiene tasks.

Mental abuse may include any acts that belittle, humiliate or threaten the resident. Mental abuse may also be inflicted by taking away the resident’s freedom of choice, as in non-medically requirement confinement to bed.

Financial abuse may include stealing, overcharging or coercing a resident into paying more than the customary charges. Coercing the patient into changing his or her will to include the facility or a specific staff member is another form of financial abuse.

Types of Liability

Depending on the specific facts of the case, the nursing home may have any or all of three basic types of liability: investigation by a protective agency, civil damages and criminal penalties.

Investigation by a protective agency is designed to immediately remove the danger. Civil damages are awarded to the victim to help remedy the damages that he or she sustained. Criminal penalties are designed to punish the offender for his or her actions. Often the three types of liability are used in tandem to provide a full solution to the situation.

Demonstrating Liability

In order for a lawsuit to proceed, the resident must be able to prove that the nursing home’s owner or employees breached a duty of care; that the injury was directly related to the breach of care; and that the conduct of the owner or employee caused the injury.

1. Breach of Duty
The resident must be able to demonstrate what the commonly accepted standard of care would be, in order to show that this was not met. In some cases, the breach may be obvious. In other cases, however, expert witnesses are needed to testify as to the prevailing standard of care.

2. Statutory Standard of Care
Some jurisdictions have issued minimal guidelines of expected basic care for nursing homes in the community. However, even if the minimum standards are met, there may still be an issue of abuse or neglect.


If the nursing home is found to be liable, there are several different types of damages that may be awarded. Victims should document such aspects as mental suffering, physical pain, lingering medical conditions and disfigurement, as well as financial damages such as medical bills.

The Bottom Line

Nursing home abuse is an uncommon but very real danger in today’s society. However, there are laws in place to protect nursing home residents. Both residents and family members should carefully monitor the situation for evidence of abuse, and consult a qualified lawyer if there is suspicion that abuse has occurred.