Fire in Assisted Living Facility: Can a Nursing Home be Liable for Wrongful Death?

Nursing Home CareA fire claimed the lives of five residents, and injured at least 10 more, at a senior-living assisted building in Texas over Christmas. A total of 150 firefighters from six different fire departments were needed to extinguish the blaze. This tragic accident may have you wondering whether an assisted living facility or nursing home can be held liable for the wrongful death of its residents.

Elder Wrongful Death Claim

The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act protects the elderly and other vulnerable adults from physical and financial abuse, isolation and abandonment, or neglect. Under these laws, staff at a nursing home or assisted living facility (and the owners of the facility itself, through the legal concept of vicarious liability) could be charged with neglect if they negligently failed to “exercise that degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise.” Neglect includes failure to protect from health and safety hazards.

Factors that may go to show that the nursing home staff was negligent, and therefore liable for your loved one’s death, may include failure to:

  • Provide adequate supervision, especially for patients known to wander or otherwise put themselves in harm’s way;
  • Have proper evacuation protocols in place in case of emergency;
  • Properly maintain fire alarms, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide alarms, or other similar devices that would warn staff and residents of an immediate need to evacuate;
  • Properly maintain elevators, or have another means to evacuate non-ambulatory residents, especially if the building is several stories and residents would be physically unable to travel down several flights of stairs quickly enough, and;
  • Properly train staff on emergency procedures.

In order to prevail on a wrongful death claim against the nursing home or assisted living facility, you must prove that the death was the direct result of the nursing home’s wrongful or negligent act. It would not be enough to argue that a fire occurred and your loved one died, because unfortunately fires happen and lives are lost. In order to prevail on a theory of negligence, you would need to show either that:

  • The facility did not have adequate procedures in place to ensure that all smoke detectors were in good working condition – and that as a result, the detectors were neither routinely checked nor the batteries regularly changed, which allowed the fire to build before staff and residents became aware; or
  • Staff failed to follow proper procedure to maintain the smoke detectors, which allowed the fire to go undetected for much longer than it would have had they been in good working condition.

If you could prove either of these, whether through maintenance logs, staff testimony or by showing a history of fire code violations, then you may be able to prove negligence on the part of the staff and prevail on the wrongful death claim.

Walnut Creek Wrongful Death Attorneys

If your loved one’s death was the result of an accident that occurred in his assisted living facility or nursing home, you may have a claim for wrongful death. With more than 60 years’ combined experience, the Walnut Creek wrongful death attorneys at Appel Law Firm LLP have a solid understanding of wrongful death and elder abuse law. We also know that the death of a loved one, especially when you believe it was the direct result of another person’s negligence, is extremely emotional. Let us help you through this difficult time. Our attorneys will handle your case with the utmost respect and treat you with the dignity and compassion you deserve. Contact our office today at 888-527-0674, or via our online web form, to schedule your free initial consultation.

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