The neglect of the elderly is a common problem, especially in larger urban areas. When the people who are being paid to provide care for the elderly are the ones who are apparently at fault for injuries and deaths occurring to the elderly, the normal recourse resides in the civil courts.
But when does neglect of the elderly, negligence or recklessness surrounding their care and/or nursing home neglect rise to the level of criminal activity? Can a nursing home or a member of its staff be charged with a crime when their negligence results in injury or death to nursing home residents?
A recent tragedy in Chicago
According to the Chicago Tribune online, three elderly nursing home residents died, apparently due to lack of proper air conditioning. When the unseasonably warm Chicago temperatures rose and the temperature in their units exceeded 100 degrees, the temperatures were unbearable in the facility and residents died.
The Tribune reports that the facility’s staff had not turned on the central air condition despite the residents’ complaints regarding the excessive heat. The staff only had window units running in common areas.
The legal implications
The most common remedy after a tragedy like this involves civil court claims. The survivors can bring wrongful death claims, and those who have suffered illnesses as a result of the negligence can bring personal injury claims.
But there are arguments to be made that someone should be criminally prosecuted. In addition to criminal neglect of a long term care resident, there is the possibility of involuntary manslaughter.
According to Illinois statutes, a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter when he or she “unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly…”
According to the Chicago Tribune report, there was no suspicion of foul play or the intention of causing harm to the residents. But there is a clear case for negligence here. A prosecutor could argue that the excessive heat and the vulnerable nature of the facility’s elderly residents creates a basic standard of care and the failure to turn on air conditioning when the temperature was oppressively hot would likely cause death, particularly to the elderly.
Whether they will be facing a civil lawsuit, criminal charges or both, the management and staff on duty of the nursing home will need excellent legal representation from an attorney who knows how to mount a strong defense. If you believe you are under investigation for elder abuse or neglect or you believe your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse or neglect, contact attorney Darryl Goldberg for consultation and legal representation.