Falls prompt many nursing home admissions, and subsequent falls keep many of these individuals from leaving. About 60 percent of nursing home residents fall every year, and a significant number of these people can no longer live independently.
Elderly people are more at risk for fall injuries, and the resulting wounds are usually more severe. Many of these individuals have gait disorders. When they start to trip, they are unable to recover their balance, and they fall. Additionally, as mentioned, many of these people are repeat fall victims. So, a new fall aggravates an old injury.
Because of these factors, a Rock Hill personal injury lawyer might be able to obtain substantial compensation in fall cases. However, these claims are quite complex.
Nursing Home Owner Responsibility
Generally, large holding companies own individual nursing homes in South Carolina. These companies are legally responsible for fall damages if they owed a legal duty and they knew about the fall hazard.
In terms of duty, South Carolina uses a classification system rooted in the common law. This system divides victims into three categories:
- Licensees, and
Nursing home residents are invited. Invitees are people who have express or implied permission to visit the property and whose presence benefits the owner. Because of the close nature of the relationship, owners owe a duty of reasonable care to invitees. That’s one of the highest responsibilities in the law.
People who visit nursing home residents are probably invitees as well. These individuals have express permission to be on the property. Moreover, their presence benefits the owner. Visitors raise the spirits of nursing home residents.
The other two categories rarely apply in nursing home falls. Licensees are people with permission but no benefit. Children who cut across parking lots are usually licensees. Trespassers are individuals with no permission and no benefit. Burglars are usually trespassers.
Additionally, the victim/plaintiff must prove the owner knew or should have known about the fall hazard. Such evidence can be:
- Direct: Smoking guns, like restroom cleaning reports and repair estimates, usually emerge during the discovery process.
- Circumstantial: Alternatively, victim/plaintiffs can use circumstantial evidence to establish constructive knowledge (should have known). Factors include the amount of time the hazard existed and the number of nursing home employees who passed near the hazard.
In civil court, victim/plaintiffs must establish knowledge and other facts by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
The “Open and Obvious” Defense
Generally, owners are not liable for fall damages if the hazard was open and obvious. Examples include displays in store aisles and colored liquid on floors.
However, the definition of an “open and obvious” hazard varies in different contexts. Many older adults suffer from Age-related Macular Degeneration. AMD degrades straight-ahead vision. Therefore, what is open and obvious to a younger person might not be open and obvious to an older person, especially if the lighting and other conditions were less than ideal.
Falls often cause serious injuries, especially among older adults. For a free consultation with an experienced Lancaster personal injury attorney, contact The Elrod Pope Law Firm, P.A. Home and hospital visits are available.
Thomas E. Pope is a Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, and Medical Malpractice Attorney who practices in Rock Hill, Lake Wylie, and Lancaster, SC. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 31 years now. Thomas E. Pope believes in protecting the injured. Learn more about his experience here.