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When is death a wrongful death?


A wrongful death is one that is caused by either the willful act of someone that led to a person's death or the failure to take measures that would prevent someone's death. In most wrongful death cases involving residents of nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, it is the failure to take measures to prevent the resident's death that is the issue. While dehydration and malnourishment can be due to illness, they can also be caused by neglect and improper care. Medication errors can also be due to neglect. Unfortunately, too often treating physicians assume that their elderly nursing home patients died of pre-existing medical conditions and do not investigate into whether an infection or fall that precipitated the death may have been due to neglect.


Dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluid. The American Medical Association describes dehydration as rapid weight loss, or weight loss in excess of 3% of a person's total body weight. Dehydration is dangerous because it can lead to electrolyte imbalances that in turn can lead to dizziness and falls. More severe dehydration can cause dry skin and bedsores, ulcers, confusion and worsened dementia. Overall, dehydration weakens a person's immune system and therefore increases their risk of infection and medical complications.

Because many elderly nursing home residents are unable to get their own drinks or even voice their own requests for liquids, it is important to know what symptoms to look for when monitoring for adequate hydration. The following are a few symptoms that indicate dehydration: thirst; loss of appetite; dry skin and lips; skin flushing in face; dark urine; dry mouth; fatigue or weakness; chills; dizziness; faintness or lightheadedness.


Malnutrition is defined as a condition that results from eating an unbalanced diet that lacks the proper amount of nutrients or has too many or too few of one kind of nutrient. In nursing homes, typically the problem is not the lack of food or even the lack of nutritious food; federal laws regulate amounts and content of food. The problem is in the lack of proper intake of food.

Elderly residents can have dental problems that make eating difficult. Medical issues and/or depression can lead to loss of appetite. Tremors, dementia, or other physical impairments can make it hard for residents to feed themselves. Unappetizing food, or having to eat meals at times that are not someone's normal meal times can exacerbate these issues and lead to even less food intake. Some signs of malnutrition are: weight loss; muscle loss; weakness; fatigue; fragile bones; tooth decay; dizziness and confusion.


Medication errors are much more common than people realize. Not only are residents given incorrect medications, but correct medicines given in wrong doses or at the wrong times also occurs and can be very harmful. Many elderly residents are on multiple medications and when a new medication is prescribed, the doctor and/or pharmacist is not always careful to check for potential harmful interactions between all the medications. Finally, medication doses should be periodically reviewed in light of the resident's continued need for the medicine, the medicine's efficacy, and the appropriateness of the dose in terms of the person's weight and overall health.


If your loved one was a resident of a nursing home or skilled nursing facility, and you suspect their death may have been due to neglect, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm to discuss your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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