Injury Claims for Falls Involving the Elderly
Slips and falls common among the elderly
Although falls can happen to anyone at any time it’s undeniably a fact that they are more of a worry for people over the age of 65. Although many older people now carry on working, and insist on pursuing a vigorous social life, there’s simply no getting away from the fact that the passing of time makes it slightly more likely that you’ll fall and, more pointedly in terms of compensation, increases the likelihood that you’ll do some serious damage to yourself when you do.
According to the NHS, older people, particularly older women, are more likely to be suffering from osteoporosis, a condition which results in the bones of the body being significantly weaker and therefore much more likely to fracture as the result of a fall. Not only is this the case, but it is also true that older people suffering from problems such as broken arms, legs and hips may suffer psychological problems when recovering from their injuries, feeling isolated, withdrawn and as though they have lost their independence.
How common are falls involving the elderly
The statistics on hospital admissions collected by the Health and Social Care Information Centre only serve to underline the disproportionate impact which a seemingly simple trip or fall can have on an elderly person. The figures for 2014-15 show that, overall, there were 438,009 admissions to hospital following slips, trips and falls, an annual increase of 3.8%. Of these admissions, elderly patients made up the following numbers:
— Patients aged 65 and over – 64.5% (282,719)
— Patients aged 75 and over – 53.7% (248,536)
To put the figures into perspective, it should be noted that patients aged 85-and-over generated almost as many ‘episodes of care’ caused by a trip or fall (139,160) as did every patient between the ages of 0-59 (139,614).
The right to claim compensation following a fall
Bearing all of this in mind, it seems only fair that an older person who falls because somebody else was negligent should be entitled to make a claim for fall injury compensation. Any money awarded will allow you to start putting your life back together and will also make sure that your financial situation is not made worse by a period of enforced recovery. This means that any and all expenses which are a direct result of the fall and injury will be reimbursed, and the compensation will also include a sum intended to represent the extent and severity of your injury.
If you fall in a public place such as a hospital, supermarket or train station then the viability of a compensation claim will depend upon the circumstances. If, for example, a floor has been cleaned but no warning signs put up, and you slip on the wet surface, then the owner of the building is clearly in the wrong – you wouldn’t have slipped had they taken the proper care to warn of the danger and therefore they have been negligent.
The important thing is to gather as much information regarding your fall as soon as possible. This includes accounts from witnesses, any entry in an accident book, photographs (if possible) of whatever it was that caused you to fall, all medical records or any CCTV footage. Your personal injury lawyer will use all of this, along with receipts for any expenses, when putting together the strongest possible case.
Falls in a nursing home
Many elderly people live in care or nursing homes. The term ‘care home’ covers any establishment offering accommodation and 24 hour care, whilst nursing homes do the same, but also offer nursing care. The legal obligations of both mean that they have to be registered as ‘service providers’ with the Care Quality Commission, England’s independent regulator of health and social care. The CQC inspects and registers care and nursing homes and endeavours to maintain the highest standards across the industry.
In April 2015 the standards expected of such service providers were upgraded from ‘Essential Standards’ to ‘Fundamental Standards’. Amongst the stipulations set out in these standards were the following:
- Care must be appropriate and reflect the person’s needs and preferences.
- Residents have to be treated with dignity and respect.
- Employees must be of good character, have the requisite skills, qualifications and experience and be able to perform the work for which they are employed.
- Residents should receive safe care and treatment, in a manner which prevents avoidable harm.
If you suffer a fall in a care or nursing home, or are representing an elderly person who has done so, then clearly these standards have not been met, and the chances that the treatment received represents negligence are very high.
Although the NHS has a clearly defined complaints procedure the situation is far from simple. The consumer champion for users of health and social care – Healthwatch England – has even gone as far as drawing up a list of calls for action, with demands which include:
- A single, fully funded complaints advocacy service.
- A rise in the quality of complaints handling.
- Every complaint, no matter how it is made or what it is regarding, to be centrally logged in order to build a comprehensive set of national metrics.
- A government review of the entire complaints landscape.
Against this backdrop it is clear that experienced personal injury lawyers have a large and important role to play in ensuring that people’s complaint are heard, recognised and acted upon.
Falls in a public place
The safety of the built environment – covering places such as shops, cinemas, train stations, libraries etc. – is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive which states that the owners of such spaces have a duty to ensure that all surfaces underfoot are maintained, monitored and cleaned in a manner which keeps them safe. This duty of care extends to customers and visitors as well as staff, and is enshrined in legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. These and other health and safety laws stipulate, for example, that any spillages should be cleaned as soon as possible, that wet floors should be dried or, if not, should have prominent warning signs displayed and that obstructions such as loose wire, litter, stock etc. should be cleared away. Failure to do any of this, or to maintain the surface of the floor in a reasonable and safe condition, could constitute an act of negligence, making it reasonable for an elderly person who has fallen and suffered an injury to make a compensation claim.
Slips and falls outside usually involve either frozen surfaces or badly maintained pavements. In both cases the relevant local authority has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to deal with the hazard concerned. Your injury lawyer will examine the details and determine whether the authority in question ought to have known of the hazard, ought to have predicted the risk it represented, and had been aware of it long enough to have done something about it. If this is the case, then a claim for compensation can be started, often utilising legal tools such as Freedom of Information requests.
If you fall and break some bones or otherwise injure yourself it is bound to cast a blight upon your later years. Claiming the compensation you’re rightly due will lessen the burden somewhat and help you get back to living a full life as soon as possible.