Did your relative pass away from COVID-19 while living in a nursing home or other type of long-term care facility? The Seattle area was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and no one was more at risk than the elderly. Though the state and local governments have worked to reduce the spread of the virus, for many people, the help came too late. Nursing homes will not be legally liable for every death attributable to COVID-19. But a resident’s death may be the result of neglect or medical malpractice related to the virus. If you suspect your loved one didn’t receive the care and protection they should have at a Washington facility, talk with Matt Menzer about the circumstances. Matt is an experienced medical negligence attorney in Seattle, WA. If there’s evidence of wrongdoing, Menzer Law can represent your family in a wrongful death lawsuit. Reach out online or call (206) 903-1818 to set up a free initial consultation.
COVID-19 in the Seattle Area
The Seattle area was one of the first hotspots for the coronavirus in the U.S. Beginning in February 2020, King County and surrounding counties had numerous confirmed cases and deaths from the virus, many of which originated at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, WA. Residents of the nursing and rehabilitation center, as well as family members and other visitors, contracted the virus. Several of them passed away. Since the first cases of COVID-19 in the area, the Washington State Department of Health has tracked the total number of cases associated with long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family homes.
As of November 2, 2020, Washington had 8,478 LTC-associated cases and 1,308 LTC-associated deaths. These amounted to 8% of all cases in the state and 55% of all deaths at that time. King County experienced the most LTC-associated cases and deaths, with 2,573 cases and 504 deaths.
Are Nursing Homes Liable for COVID-19 Deaths?
Depending on the specific circumstances surrounding each resident’s passing, a nursing home might be liable for wrongful death.Washington’s wrongful death statute says you can file a lawsuit when a person’s death is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party. To win a wrongful death lawsuit against a nursing home, you must be able to prove medical negligence, recklessness, intentional misconduct, or some other wrongful act.It matters how a nursing home handled COVID-19, including when they started implementing additional measures to protect residents and their families from the highly contagious virus.
A nursing home or other LTC facility might not have handled the situation as professionally and carefully as it should have, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Under these circumstances, it may be possible to show the nursing home’s wrongful conduct directly caused your loved one to contract and pass away from the virus.
Do Nursing Homes Have Legal Immunity?
There’s been a push in many states to pass executive orders or legislation granting nursing homes immunity from civil liability related to COVID-19. The motivation is coming from the nursing home industry, which doesn’t want to be burdened with hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits. Washington state has not granted nursing homes immunity from claims related to coronavirus deaths. There is no law or executive order to stop you from filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a facility if there’s evidence of wrongdoing.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Seattle
At least one family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner of the Kirkland, WA nursing home. Deborah “Debbie” de los Angeles, the daughter of Twilla Morin, 85, file a lawsuit against Life Care Centers of America. De los Angeles alleges that Life Care Center, its owners, and its senior executives in Kirkland failed to disclose material facts to residents of the facility and their relatives.
Because of this failure, residents continued to live at the facility believing they were in a safe environment when in actuality, they were in an environment that was dangerous to their health and safety. De los Angeles and her attorney suspect the defendants had more information about a possible COVID-19 outbreak before February 29th, which is when the defendants claim to have learned of Morin’s case. We don’t know yet whether the facility will be held responsible for wrongful death. What we do know is that it’s faced civil fines for problems at the facility.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services fined the nursing home more than $611,000 because of issues contributing to the outbreak.Inspectors found numerous deficiencies that put residents in imminent danger, including failure to:
- Quickly identify and manage sick patients;
- Notify the Washington Department of Health about the rising rate of respiratory infections among residents; and
- Have a backup plan in case the facility’s primary doctor became sick.
Do You Suspect a Nursing Home Could Have Prevented Your Relative’s Death?
If you believe your relative’s nursing home is responsible for their death due to the coronavirus, call Menzer Law right away. Matt Menzer and his team are here to discuss your family’s circumstances and what legal rights you have. You can call (206) 903-1818 or use our online form to request a free initial consultation.