If you or a loved one developed bedsores while in the care of a nursing home, hospital, home health care, or other medical facilities and care programs, the court could find your caretaker or the facility negligent. Bedsores should not happen if a patient receives the proper care, which means turning immobile patients frequently. It takes some time for a patient to develop bedsores; thus, in most cases, the caregivers were most likely negligent in their care.
What Are Pressure Sores?
Bedsores, also known as pressure sores and pressure ulcers, develop when you lay or sit in one position and never relieve the pressure on that part of your body. Pressure ulcers can damage all of the layers of skin and even eat into muscles and ligaments under your skin if not cared for immediately.
Because pressure ulcers take more than a few days to manifest, they are avoidable with the proper care. They can cause additional damage if they get infected or gangrenous, including amputation. In most cases, your caretaker or the medical facility is negligent if you develop bedsores.
To prevent pressure ulcers, medical personnel should turn you every 15 minutes. If you are in a wheelchair, you should—with help, if needed—lift yourself out of the chair to relieve the pressure on your buttocks and hips. You could also attend occupational therapy to prevent pressure sores.
Can I Sue a Medical Facility Because I Got Bedsores?
In many cases, if you develop pressure ulcers, your caretakers are most likely negligent in caring for you. Caregivers can prevent immobile patients from getting bedsores by turning the patient every 15 minutes or ensuring the immobile patient receives the proper occupational therapy.
Those who are bedridden are not the only people who could develop bedsores. Those who use a wheelchair could also develop bedsores. Patients who lie in bed or use a wheelchair could develop bedsores on their shoulder blades, backs, buttocks, the backs of their knees, heels, and other places that bear the weight of their bodies for long periods. If you notice pressure ulcers, you should always let the nursing staff know.
If possible, keep a diary of when you noticed the sores, when you alerted medical personnel of the pressure ulcer, when the staff started treating the bedsore, and how the medical personnel treated it.
How Long Do I Have to File a Case for Bedsores in South Carolina?
The statute of limitations in South Carolina because of pressure ulcers is three years. While you have three years to file a lawsuit, you should always contact a bedsore attorney as soon as possible. The three years go by quickly when you are building a case against a negligent caregiver or medical facility.
Additionally, most insurance companies require you to file a claim within months—some as early as a month or less. Because the caretaker’s or medical facility’s insurance company is responsible for paying the compensation you deserve for their negligence, you must follow their rules or risk losing the ability to work out a settlement.
Who Pays for My Pressure Sore Injuries?
In some cases, Medicare or your insurance company will pay for bedsore injuries. However, if you win a settlement or a trial award, the negligent party pays for your bedsore injuries. Your insurance company might request or demand reimbursement if you win.
If doctors expect your pressure ulcers to require long-term care, your medical malpractice attorney will work with medical experts to determine the approximate cost of your future medical expenses. As part of the demand letter, your attorney includes future medical expenses when applicable.
How Long Does It Take to Settle a Pressure Ulcer Case?
The amount of time it takes to settle a case depends on several factors, including whether the insurance company accepts the offer in your initial demand letter, how much the insurance company counteroffers, and whether you decide to stop settlement negotiations and sue the defendant.
Once you agree, can take time for you to receive your share of the settlement. The insurance company reviews the settlement, then signs it and processes it. It mails a check to your attorney, who then deposits the check into his or her escrow account.
Depending on the size of the check, it could take up to 14 days for it to clear. Once it clears, the attorney deducts any outstanding medical bills for treatment of the pressure ulcers and mails the medical providers their payments. Your attorney then reimburses your insurance companies if you use vehicle or health insurance to cover injuries while waiting for your settlement or a trial award.
Finally, your attorney deducts his or her fees and costs, then mails you a check for the remaining amount.
What If the Insurance Company Will Not Offer a Fair and Reasonable Settlement?
You can go back and forth with the insurance company as many times as you would like. However, there comes a point where you are wasting time and money. If it looks as though the insurance company will not offer a fair and reasonable amount, it may be time to end settlement negotiations and file a lawsuit against the insurance company and the medical facility or caregiver.
How Long Does a Pressure Sore Lawsuit Take?
Lawsuits take longer than settlements. From the time you file the lawsuit, it could take a couple of weeks to serve the defendant. Once served, the defendant has 30 days to file responsive pleadings. If the defendant files an answer and counterclaim, the lawsuit moves forward. However, if the defendant files a motion to dismiss or another responsive pleading, you usually have to wait until the court hears the defendant’s motion unless your attorney and the defendant can agree on the defendant’s motion.
The wait for a court hearing depends on when the judge is available at the same time your attorney and the defendant’s attorney are available. Once all parties agree on a date, the person who filed the motion—in this case, the defendant—must give at least a certain number of days’ notice for the hearing.
The court makes an order on the motion. In the case of a motion to dismiss if the court agrees with the defendant, your attorney has a certain number of days to file an amended complaint or otherwise cure the defect. If the court does not agree with the defendant and the initial 20 days have passed, the defendant must file an answer to your lawsuit immediately unless your attorney agrees and the defendant receives permission from the court for additional time.
Once the defendant files an answer and a counterclaim (if applicable), discovery starts. This phase could take a matter of a couple of months, or it could take years. Delays could happen on both sides.
If you have to request additional time, it is usually because you are having trouble receiving the documents you need from hospitals and others regarding your pressure sores. The defendant could also experience real or made-up delays while obtaining requested documents.
During the discovery phase, your attorney and the defendant might wish to conduct depositions. The law firms need to schedule them when both attorneys and the deponents are available. Deponents could include you, the nurses who cared for you, your doctor, or anyone else who might have been responsible for or treated your injuries.
Once the discovery phase finishes, the attorneys must file a pre-trial hearing. The court might ask for additional information, including a list of witnesses and a list of exhibits. It takes time to put everything together, but hopefully no more than a few weeks to a month. At the pre-trial hearing, the court sets the date or dates for the trial. As part of the pre-trial, the attorneys estimate how much time they need to present their cases. Trials could run for a half-day to several days.
After the trial ends, the court requests one of the attorneys to draft an order. The attorney must forward the order to the other attorney. Once both agree the content of the order aligns with what the court ordered, the attorney forwards the order to the judge, who then reviews it, executes it, and files it with the Clerk of Court.
If you win your case, the insurance company then writes a check to your attorney. From this point, the process of disbursing funds is the same as disbursing funds from a settlement.
How Much Money Can I Get in a Bedsore Settlement or Lawsuit?
The amount of compensation you can recover depends on several factors, including the severity of your bedsores, whether you and your attorney believe the defendant was grossly negligent, and other factors.
You could recover compensatory damages and punitive damages for compensation related to pressure ulcers. Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. The court orders the defendant to pay both in an attempt to make you whole again. If the court determines that you can recover punitive damages, that award is a punishment for the defendant’s gross negligence.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
Your medical expenses include doctor’s visits, surgeries, prescriptions, ambulatory aids, and follow-up appointments. They also include any therapy you need, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, and other psychological therapies. Finally, if you have to adapt your vehicle for hand controls or add mobility aids to your home, such as a wheelchair ramp, grab bars, or widened doors, you could also recover compensation for those expenses.
If doctors expect your injuries to become long-term or permanent disabilities, you could also recover future medical expenses.
Usually, when you think of bedsores, you think of bedridden elderly people. However, working-age people could also suffer from bedsores if they suffer a coma or catastrophic injuries because of an accident or if they develop an illness that causes immobility. If you suffer bedsores because of an accident or illness during your working years, you could recover lost wages and loss of earning capacity if the bedsores extend your recovery time.
If pressure ulcers cause you to lose a loved one, you could recover funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses. You could also recover additional costs, such as probate filing fees.
General damages, often referred to as non-economic damages, do not have a monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Emotional distress if pressure ulcers cause the death of a loved one.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make lifestyle changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy family time, events, and/or activities.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do your normal chores, including but not limited to house cleaning, grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, and home repair and/or maintenance.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement, which you could see if the pressure ulcers are Stage III or IV.
While it is difficult to recover punitive damages, in some cases, it is worth the extra effort. The court only orders a defendant to pay punitive damages if it deems the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional.
You can only recover punitive damages if the court orders the defendant to pay compensatory damages. Thus, the trial for punitive damages is in two parts: The first part is to determine whether you will receive compensatory damages. The second part of the trial, which uses the same jury and judge, determines if the defendant should pay punitive damages.
If you suffer from pressure ulcers or you lost a loved one because of complications from pressure ulcers, contact a nursing home bedsore lawyer for a free case evaluation.
Nathan Hughey, an attorney and fourth-generation South Carolinian, founded Hughey Law Firm in 2007. Before that, he spent five years defending nursing homes and insurance companies. Leveraging his experience, he now advocates for those injured or wronged by such entities, securing over $220 million in verdicts and settlements.