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Q: My Dad, who suffers from dementia, wandered away from his central Pennsylvania residential facility last month. He was missing for about 12 hours. Fortunately, he has no lasting problems from the experience. Does the nursing home owe him compensation?

A:

We’re happy to hear that the outcome was so much better than it could have been.

About half of all Pennsylvania nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia. These people are at increased risk of elopement – the tendency to wander off the premises without permission or supervision. Elopement exposes a nursing home resident to horrible danger. The disabilities that come with dementia mean that the nursing home resident can easily become confused or disoriented outside the facility. As you certainly are aware, there are regular news reports of nursing home wandering cases in which the resident became lost, roamed into traffic, fell into a ditch, or suffered from exposure from being improperly dressed for the weather conditions.

Managers and staff at all Pennsylvania nursing homes understand these risks. They have a legal obligation to guard Pennsylvania nursing home residents from harm, and that means they must implement active strategies to prevent elopement. When the residential care facility or its personnel fail in this duty, they—the business and its employees—can be held liable for any injuries and losses that follow.

However, you say that your father suffered no ill effects from his 12-hour absence. Our civil legal system is designed to give people compensation when they are harmed by someone else’s negligence. If the nursing home was negligent but no harm occurred, then there is no basis to ask for compensation.

The big question, then, is this: how do you know that your father suffered no harm as a result of his elopement?

Perhaps officials from the nursing home assured you that your Dad is okay. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t rely too much on their statements. These are the same people who promised you that your father would never be able to wander away from his new home. Nursing home administrators may want to discourage you from investigating the case too closely, so of course they will tell you everything is fine.

Four Checkpoints Worth Examining

We can think of four distinct aspects of this incident that you may want to investigate before your mind will be at ease about your father’s elopement last month:

  • Hidden physical injuries – Unless you already had your father undergo a thorough physical examination by a doctor you trust, you cannot be sure he really got through his experience without harm. Don’t rely on the nursing home’s medical staff; take your Dad to a physician you know.
  • Psychological injuries – Your father probably needs a comprehensive psychological and neurological evaluation after his adventure. Even if your Dad has some difficulties in communication and expression due to his dementia, an experienced mental health professional will be able to give his best opinion about whether the elopement led to any lasting mental trauma.
  • Enduring consequences of a disrupted medical regimen – Many nursing home residents follow an inflexible medication schedule. For half a day, your Dad was away from the nursing home and unable to take his needed medication. Did that cause subtle, long-term changes to his health? You may need a second medical evaluation to consider whether nursing home negligence has compromised the medical treatment plan for any ailments your father may suffer, such as high-blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Injuries to yourself – Knowing that your father was lost and wandering from his nursing home could easily have affected your own health or that of your family members. Stress and worry can cause long-lasting physical harm as well as psychological effects. Even if your Dad has no ill effects from his adventure, the profoundly damaging stress you were exposed to may require compensation from the negligent officials at the nursing home.

Let Us Help You Seek the Maximum Recovery for Your Case

Our nursing home neglect lawyers in Harrisburg have seen too many tragedies occur as a result of wandering away from residential facilities in central Pennsylvania. The team at Schmidt Kramer has been able to help many families in York, Lebanon, Carlisle, Lancaster, and surrounding communities get full and fair compensation on behalf of abused and neglected senior care residents.

We have already suggested some approaches you may want to take in deciding whether your father actually got through his experience unscathed. If you have additional questions, or if a doctor’s evaluation discovers that your Dad’s condition has worsened, you may want a full confidential case evaluation by one of our experienced Harrisburg trial lawyers. To schedule a completely FREE case review, call us at 717-888-8888 locally or (888) 476-0807 toll-free.

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