Can you sue a nursing home for UTIs?

Episode 164
Categories: Neglect & Abuse

Whether you can sue a nursing home for a UTI will depend on whether the infection was avoidable and whether the nursing home’s negligence was the direct cause. But there is much more to it than this. In this week’s episode, how to sue a nursing home for UTI.

Can you sue a nursing home for a UTI?

So today on the podcast, we’re dealing with urinary tract infections, which is a common occurrence in nursing homes, but the $64,000 question is can you sue a nursing home for a UTI? Whether or not you can sue a nursing home for UTIs – you hear that thunder? Wow, it’s a rainy night in Georgia. So whether or not you can sue a nursing home for UTIs will depend on whether or not that UTI is avoidable or unavoidable, and that is a term of art that is laid out in Georgia regulations and federal regulations.

Are UTIs avoidable? 

So a UTI is unavoidable, meaning the nursing home is not liable, if the nursing home assessed that resident in a comprehensive assessment for their risk of UTI, if the nursing home based on that assessment develops a care plan with appropriate interventions, meaning treatments or types of care tailored to that specific resident’s risk of UTI, and then if the nursing home updates and monitors that care plan. So if a UTI develops even though the nursing home has assessed the resident, has developed a care plan and has revised that care plan, then that UTI is unavoidable. It’s unavoidable.

An avoidable care plan is when the nursing home has failed to do any one of those three steps – assess, develop a care plan, revise the care plan. So the question of whether or not you can sue for a UTI is whether a UTI was avoidable or unavoidable. That’s the brass tax of a UTI case. So that makes sense.

What can a nursing home do to prevent UTIs?

So what are some then specific things that nursing homes should do to prevent UTIs, to prevent avoidable pressure ulcers aside from correct assessments, care plans and revising those care plans? So essentially what’s the nitty gritty? Well a few of the principal components of preventing a UTI is having proper infection control protocols in the nursing home. So a nursing home should have policies and procedures and train their staff on hand hygiene, on catheter hygiene, on what’s the hand hygiene and sanitation protocol for changing a catheter in a resident – these types of things, so an overall emphasis on confronting infection before it starts.

Incontinent care – proper training by the nursing home with regard to how to provide incontinent care in residents because unfortunately those incontinent of bowel or bladder have a higher likelihood of getting UTIs, so being able to get in there, making sure the activities of daily living, including toileting, are done correctly. That can go a long way towards preventing UTIs. So if there’s evidence the nursing home doesn’t do that, then that UTI that results is probably going to be considered avoidable, not unavoidable.

And regular rounding I think is something that’s often overlooked. So for residents that are not mobile, residents that need assistance in toileting, if they’re not regularly watched out for and therefore they have incontinent episodes or they’re having to hold their urine for a long time, that increases the likelihood of UTIs. So making sure that the nursing staff understands the importance of rounding and effectuating that rounding protocol, that can go a long way as well towards preventing UTIs.

So understanding avoidable and unavoidable, understanding that nursing homes can have specific strategies to prevent UTIs, these are core concepts to suing a nursing home for that injury.

So what are some of the signs of UTI? 

And the reason why that’s important is that we have cases, again, a case can arise at the nursing home, the UTI is avoidable meaning they were negligent and caused the UTI. But sometimes the UTI, even if it’s unavoidable, even though the nursing home did everything they could, sometimes there’s a case because the nursing home fails to recognize the sign of infection early on, and by failing to recognize the signs of infection early on makes the injury worse. So in other words, if the nursing home staff is not trained on the signs and symptoms of infections, so for example, altered mental status, increased respiration, blood pressure, heart rate, these types of things, if left unnoticed, then sepsis and septic shock can develop, complications can develop and that can actually be obviously far worse than just having a UTI. So there are UTI cases or those that start as UTI but develop into sepsis and septic shock where the negligence occurs after the UTI has developed. So again, like I said, sometimes those cases, the negligence is the UTI developed at all, plus the sepsis and septic shock and not observing the early signs or just not recognizing the signs of sepsis and the injuries that occur because of that.

Are there other symptoms of a UTI?

So there are several symptoms of UTIs, and again, the nursing home staff should be on the lookout for these, be trained to be on the lookout for these in residents, especially those with a history of UTIs. But the more common symptoms of UTI include fever, complaints of burning during urination, increased urgency to urinary, pelvic pain or tenderness in the pelvic area. One of the telltale signs is foul-smelling or darker colored urine. That is definitely a red flag for many, many things, but seeing dark urine in combination with any of those others is a pretty good indication there is in fact a UTI. As I mentioned before, declining mental status is a sign of UTI and then of course if labs are sent off and come back with abnormal results, that is pretty much a dead giveaway of a UTI.

What type of recovery is available if you sue a nursing home for UTI?

So in a typical UTI lawsuit, the types of recovery – so what are the types of recovery you’d be entitled to in a UTI lawsuit if you sued that nursing home? So typically there will be two buckets. The first bucket is what we in Georgia we call special damages. The second bucket is general damages. In that first bucket, the special damages, it’s kind of the things that have receipts – medical bills, if the person has passed – funeral costs, that type of thing. And so for example, if the resident goes to the hospital, maybe to the intensive care unit, then whatever the cost of that stay at the hospital is, that’s what they would be entitled to for compensation. And that’s in spite of the fact or despite the fact that maybe Medicare or Medicaid paid for it. Typically the evidence of Medicare or Medicaid insurance is not allowable in a typical case, and if the medical bill is $100,000, you’re authorized to ask the jury for the $100,000 even though the resident didn’t come out of pocket for that. We can talk about that in another episode, but again, medical expenses are going to be in one of the buckets of damages or compensations for a UTI case.

The other type of damage is the money damages you could get in a UTI case would be general damages in Georgia, which we would call pain and suffering. So pain and suffering itself has many factors, not literally just the actual pain you’re going through but also how the injury has affected your life moving forward and how you’re having to deal with that going forward as well. If the resident has passed away due to UTI, then next of kin like spouse or children have the claim for wrongful death, which has its own compensation scheme, its own recovery scheme based on other elements. But typically UTI cases, you’re going to get medical bills and you’re going to make a claim for pain and suffering as a result of that UTI.

If you want to learn more about UTIs and suing a nursing home for a UTI, then there are a couple of other episodes that go more into depth.

Episode 87: Preventing Catheter-Associated Infections

Episode 98: Are Nursing Homes Liable for Infections?

Episode 143: Infection Control in Nursing Homes

So I would recommend you go check those out if you want to learn more about UTIs. But that’s going to conclude the content of this particular episode. Short and to the point episode this week. If you are enjoying the content, please be sure to like and subscribe. If you’re watching on YouTube, please be sure to leave a comment, let us know how we’re doing. And with that, we’ll see you next time.