How to Sue a Nursing Home for Sepsis

If left untreated, an infection can quickly go from bad to worse when a patient develops sepsis. Nursing home staff have limited time to treat sepsis before it progresses to septic shock—a condition with a mortality rate of nearly 50%.

If nursing home staff fail to treat an infection promptly, and sepsis develops and injures or claims a resident’s life, you could be entitled to compensation for any damages. Attorney Mac Hester of Nursing Home Justice has over 35 years of legal experience. He knows what it takes to gain respect for your family if they’re injured in a long-term care facility.

Contact us at (303) 775-8128 today to schedule your free consultation.

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is simply defined as the body’s life-threatening response to an infection. Typically, your body’s immune system fights off an infection. However, sometimes—for reasons unknown—your immune system starts attacking everything, including your healthy tissue.

This kickstarts the overwhelming inflammatory response, otherwise known as sepsis.

What Are the Stages of Sepsis?

There are three stages of sepsis: systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), severe sepsis, and septic shock. The following provides descriptions for each of these stages:

  • Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome – Patients with SIRS often experience a fever, rapid heart rate, or a high respiratory rate.
  • Severe Sepsis – Patients suffering from severe sepsis could experience organ dysfunction, change in mental state, low blood pressure, decreased urine output, and abdominal pain.
  • Septic Shock – This is the most extreme stage of sepsis. It’s often characterized as a patient having dangerously low blood pressure, rapid pulse rate, and rapid breathing.

What Are the Risks of Sepsis?

If nursing home staff and medical professionals don’t act quickly, sepsis could lead to organ failure, tissue damage, and the death of a resident in less than 12 hours. Research from the Centers for Disease Control states that 1 in 3 patients diagnosed with sepsis die. This rate could increase to 50% when patients are diagnosed with septic shock.

Survivors are often haunted by their traumatic experiences with sepsis. Research suggests that almost half of them are diagnosed with post-sepsis syndrome. This condition causes victims to experience nightmares, panic attacks, depression, and other life-changing symptoms after their hospitalization for sepsis.

How Do You Get Sepsis in Nursing Homes?

Sepsis is caused by an infection in the body, which can be traced back to germs and bacteria.

The following germs could cause infections that result in sepsis:

  • MRSA – This is an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. The bacteria that cause this infection live on the skin and could enter the body through cuts or other openings like bedsores.
  • Difficile – This bacterium causes inflammation in the gut, resulting in diarrhea, fever, nausea, and other harsh symptoms. C. Difficile is often found in a resident’s stool and could spread from person to person in a nursing home with poor hygiene.
  • Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus ­– Enterococci is a bacterium that lives naturally in the body and our environment. An antibiotic called vancomycin is used to treat infections caused by enterococci bacteria. However, this bacterium could develop a resistance to vancomycin, resulting in vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.

Although any infection could lead to sepsis, these five are the most common:

  1. Pneumonia – This is a respiratory infection that inflames the lungs and results in coughing, fever, or labored breathing, among other symptoms
  2. Urinary Tract Infections – Constant use of indwelling catheters could introduce bacteria to your urethra and cause an infection that results in bloody urine, pain, and frequent urination.
  3. Wound Infections – Any open wound has the potential to be infected. Bedsores are common wounds in nursing home settings, often resulting in sepsis if left untreated.
  4. Meningitis – This is characterized as an inflammation in the brain and spinal cord membranes that results from an infection in the brain and spinal cord fluid.
  5. Endocarditis – This rare infection occurs when the inner lining of the heart and its valves become inflamed. Fever, chills, and fatigue are common symptoms of this infection.

What Are the Early Warning Signs of Sepsis?

Sepsis can be tricky to identify in nursing home residents because a patient’s chronic condition might be mistaken for a symptom of sepsis. For example, nursing home residents might have cognitive impairments or respiratory issues because of a preexisting condition, not because they’re developing sepsis. If nursing home staff misdiagnose a resident with sepsis, it could lead to unnecessary treatment and complications.

On the contrary, if a nursing home ignores signs of sepsis and writes them off as a symptom of their chronic condition, residents might not be treated at all. Another reason sepsis is hard to identify is that residents might not show any signs. For example, as residents age, they lose the ability to develop a fever to fight off infections, and staff members may overlook sepsis until it’s too late.

Given that sepsis can be challenging to diagnose, nursing home staff must be trained to know the warning signs of sepsis and pay close attention to any acute changes in a patient’s condition.

Signs of Sepsis

Although the signs of sepsis vary, here are the general symptoms nursing homes should look for:

  • High heart rate
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

If a nursing home suspects sepsis in a resident, they must closely monitor the patient’s vitals to ensure they don’t develop a fever or sudden change in their heart rate. If unsure whether a resident has sepsis, staff should contact a medical professional and simply ask.

Helpful Tools to Identify Sepsis

The Sepsis Alliance recommends using the helpful acronym TIME to identify sepsis: Temperature, Infection, Mental Decline, and Extremely Ill. Other institutions, such as the Minnesota Hospital Association, recommend using the 100/100/100 rule. The criteria for this rule include the following:

  • Temperature above 100ºF
  • Heart rate above 100
  • Blood pressure below 100

How Do Nursing Homes Treat Sepsis?

Nursing home staff must be trained to identify sepsis and provide initial treatment because sepsis begins before a patient arrives at a hospital approximately 87% of the time. Initial treatment might include intravenous fluids and antibiotics within the first hour of identification to stop sepsis from progressing.

Studies have shown that each hour without antibiotic treatment decreases the survival rate by almost 8%.

Although some nursing homes have enough qualified personnel to monitor severe infections, residents with sepsis will most likely need to be immediately transferred to a hospital. In that case, it’s essential to present any documentation stating how a resident wishes to be cared for.

A resident may forgo hospital treatment, requesting that the condition be treated within the nursing home. If a resident chooses to be transferred, they can detail the type of care they wish to receive.

How to Sue a Nursing Home for Sepsis?

When a nursing home causes the injury or death of a loved one, you must determine who is liable to ensure you recover the compensation your family needs.

How is a Nursing Home Liable for Sepsis?

Sepsis is often a result of neglectful nursing homes that fail to treat an existing infection. Nursing homes with poor hygiene, a lack of trained staff members, and inadequate infection control policies could contribute to a resident’s infection, leading to sepsis.

Nursing homes might also misdiagnose residents and force them to undergo treatments they don’t need, which results in further complications. Additionally, if nursing homes ignore the signs of sepsis and their negligence results in a resident’s death, staff members, management companies, and the nursing home itself could be liable for any damages. Your attorney can identify all liable parties and gather evidence to prove their negligence

What Compensation Can You Recover for Sepsis?

If the nursing home caused you or your loved one’s damages, you can file a personal injury lawsuit with your attorney to recover the compensation you need for the following:

  • Physical Pain
  • Mental Suffering
  • Current and ongoing medical bills
  • Long-term care expenses

Wrongful Death

If sepsis caused the death of your loved one, you could file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover the following damages:

  • Loss of financial support the decedent would have provided
  • Funeral Costs
  • Grief, sorrow, and loss of companionship