Page Reviewed / Updated - May 2014
Elderly individuals, due to the decreased balance and reaction time that comes with aging, are more likely to fall down and receive an injury as a result. Bodies become more fragile as they age and consequently, falls commonly result in hip fractures, broken wrists, arms, legs and even concussions. Attorneys refer to these accidents as Slip and Falls or sometimes Slip, Trip and Falls. In addition to medical care such as x-rays, casts and surgeries, the injured often require nursing home care for recovery and personal care at home to assist them with their activities of daily living following their nursing home stays. There may also be expenses for medical equipment such as wheelchairs or walkers and pain medications on a long term basis.
Are the elderly entitled to compensation if Injured in a fall? Yes, often times seniors are entitled to compensation for their medical bills, the non-medical care they receive and additional compensation for general damages and the disruption to their lives. Entitlement to compensation is generally dependent on two factors; the reason for the fall and the location in which the fall occurred.
There must be a reason the elderly individual fell greater than simply loss of balance. For example, icy sidewalks, spilled food and drink, poorly maintained walking areas are valid reasons where compensation may be due. The location is important because in order to receive compensation, another entity must be, at least partially, at fault. Falls which occur in the individual's home are rarely compensated. However, falls that occur in public spaces that should be maintained as safe such as city sidewalks, parks, shopping areas, restaurants, malls, libraries and public transit areas, will very often result in compensation.
If the senior has made or is expected to make a full recovery from their injury, individuals should be able to regain their full out-of-pocket medical expenses, personal care costs and an additional 2-3 times that amount for the disruption to their lives.
If their injury is a life changing event from which they will never make a full recovery and consequently will require assistance for the remainder of their lives, then the equation for compensation is more complicated. In addition to their medical and personal care expenses, it may be determined that an injured individual now requires a motorized wheelchair for mobility. Their home will likely require modifications to accommodate for the wheelchair; the addition of a ramp, widening of doorways and evening of floor surfaces. Bathrooms might need transfer benches, rails or walk in tubs. In addition, the injured individuals may require a home care aide several days a week to assist with basic chores around their home. All of these expenses must be taken into consideration when reaching a settlement for a life-changing injury.
While individuals may require ongoing care and therefore have ongoing expenses for the remainder of their lives, the legal system typically does not work in this fashion. More often, an expectation of lifetime costs is calculated and a one-time settlement is reached instead of monthly payments to cover costs. As with injuries from which full recoveries are made, persons with non-recoverable injuries can expect 2-3 times their full expenses for the disruption to their lives. However, this amount is considerably higher with non-recoverable injuries given that their expenses are so much greater. This compensation can make a significant contribution towards the cost of caring for a loved one for the remainder of their life.
Personal injury and elder law attorneys that work with individuals on these types of cases, typically do so on a contingency fee basis. This means they do not charge the elderly individual directly for their services instead they take a percentage of the settlement amount. If they do not win the case or no settlement is reached, the attorney is not paid for their services. For elderly individuals with low incomes, this model is advantageous as they do not have to find financial resources to hire an attorney. They simply present the situation to an attorney in a free consultation and the attorney makes the decision on whether or not to take on the client.
Once the injured individual and the attorney have agreed to work together, the attorney will aggregate all the expenses, existing and future, and determine a fair and realistic compensation amount. They contact and negotiate with the relevant parties and determine a final settlement amount. From this settlement, the attorney takes their fees (typically 30%), pays off any unpaid medical bills and the remaining portion goes directly to the individual in need of care.
Settlements for injuries resulting from falls are usually in the range of $10,000 - $100,000. Approximately 80% of cases accepted by an attorney will result in a settlement.
While compensation for injuries resulting from falls cannot solve a family's financial challenges with long term care, fair compensation can be a considerable help and should an individual be injured, this source of funds should not be ignored.