Serious falls can happen to anyone. But older people are especially at risk for these injuries. Each year, hospital emergency rooms treat over 1.8 million fall victims over 65. The outlook worsens by year. Among folks over 85, falls are by far the leading cause of injury-related death.
Many of these incidents occur in nursing homes, and it is easy to see why. The over-65 population is expanding rapidly. As a result, many of these facilities are almost constantly under construction. There are floor hazards everywhere in these areas.
Moreover, many nursing home patients suffer from dementia or other conditions. So, they sometimes wander aimlessly. They may not see or understand signs like “Danger” or “Under Construction.”
An attorney can usually win substantial compensation for fall victims. But the insurance company does not simply give this money away.
Establishing Liability in Florida Nursing Home Fall Cases
Nursing home residents are invitees. They responded to the owner’s express or implied invitation, and they confer an economic benefit on the owner.
In these situations, owners have a duty of reasonable care under Florida law. That duty is essentially twofold. First, owners must ensure that the premises are reasonably safe for all invitees. Second, the owner must frequently inspect the property to ensure that these standards are being maintained.
In addition to invitees, Florida law recognizes two additional categories of fall victims. They are:
- Licensees (permission to be on the property but no benefit), and
- Trespassers (no permission and no benefit).
Generally, if the victim was a licensee, the owner simply has a duty to warn about latent (hidden) defects. Latent defects include things like burned-out lightbulbs and loose stairway rails; licensees are usually people like guests of apartment tenants.
With a few exceptions, owners usually owe no duty to trespassers. Stories of injured burglars who sue homeowners are basically urban legends.
Insurance Company Defenses in Fall Cases
Lack of knowledge is one of the most frequent defenses. If the owner did not know about the defect, there is no liability.
Sometimes, there is direct evidence of actual knowledge. But usually, victims must use circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known).
Most Florida courts use the time-notice rule in these cases. The longer a hazard exists, the more likely constructive knowledge becomes. One court used a banana peel as an example. If the peel was yellow, there is no constructive knowledge. But if the peel is black and looks like it had been walked over, constructive knowledge usually attaches.
Other insurance companies try to use the open-and-obvious defense. They argue that the victims must have seen the hazards, so no there is no liability.
The case law in support of this defense is rather fluid. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, older people do not always readily see and properly interpret danger signs. According to the eggshell skull rule, landowners must take reasonable care to protect all invitees, regardless of their mental or physical abilities.
Contact Aggressive Attorneys
When older people fall in nursing homes, the facility is usually responsible for damages. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed. We have four area offices (St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, and Clearwater).