Mercifully, the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in New Jersey nursing homes is plunging dramatically as the vaccination program rolls out. However, New Jersey has recorded more than 8,000 COVID deaths of long term care residents, one of the highest levels in the country. Early on in the pandemic, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that gives broad immunity to healthcare facilities treating patients with COVID-19, including long term care facilities. With the egregious news stories that seemingly show clear neglect and coverup, many of those left behind are questioning what the options are for justice for their loved one and if its possible to file a lawsuit for a COVID-19 death in a nursing home.
In the spring of 2020, the New Jersey legislature and governor enacted legislation raising the bar on what is considered negligence. The rationale at the time was that health care providers acting in good faith and according to prevailing safety protocols should not face crushing financial liability for COVID-19 related deaths that may not be their fault. While this legislation may have had good intentions, many elder advocates have criticized this law as a way for poor quality facilities to escape culpability for preventable deaths.
Before COVID-19 hit, long term care facilities in New Jersey were already under scrutiny for understaffing, which is a key reason for nursing home neglect. Understaffed facilities create serious health risks and vulnerability for patients. In fact, federal research indicates that as many as 90% of nursing homes in this country are understaffed. Additionally, staffing has emerged as a key indicator of COVID-19 outbreak risk in nursing homes.
The law, however, does not prohibit all COVID-19 claims. It did include provisions for cases of gross negligence, reckless endangerment, fraud or willful misconduct, for instance. Some recent lawsuits provide insight into some of these cases and examples.
Lawsuits for COVID-19 Deaths in NJ Long Term Care Facilities
Several horrific and highly publicized cases have resulted in lawsuits against New Jersey nursing homes and long term care facilities for fraud, gross negligence and violations of federal law. In one such case, 7 bodies were discovered crammed into a small morgue inside an Andover Subacute Rehabilitation Center in Andover, NJ. Pre-pandemic, this facility had been cited consistently for regulatory violations.
In response, some of the victims’ relatives have filed suit against the home’s owners and unnamed staff members. The suit alleges that the facility failed to implement corrective measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Another claim is that staff failed to keep families informed about the whereabouts of their departed loved ones’ remains for several weeks after their deaths.
The loved ones of deceased residents from one of the three state run veterans homes have filed a wrongful death claim against the Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park. According to NJ.com, the claim states that the staff at the home were instructed not to wear masks or gloves, allowed infected residents to congregate together, allowed infected staff to continue working and other shocking practices.
Do I Have a Case for a Lawsuit?
We place a tremendous amount of trust into nursing homes and the care they can give our loved ones. With that trust comes responsibility and legal obligation to treat nursing home residents not only with dignity and kindness but also with professionalism that focuses on residents’ safety and well-being. Unfortunately, there can be situations where nursing homes are not meeting their legal obligations and you may have grounds for a legal claim.
As the pandemic crisis plays out, don’t wait to act if your loved one has or is experiencing neglect or abuse in their care facility. Our New Jersey nursing home abuse attorneys can explain your legal options, investigate your case, and help you understand your options. Don’t let injustices against your loved ones continue. Contact us today for a free consultation.