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Expert Testimony Not Required to Demonstrate a Nursing Home’s Care Fell Below the Standard

October 3, 2019

A United States District Court Judge ruled that plaintiff did not need expert testimony to establish that it was below the standard of care to leave a fall prevention plan unchanged at a nursing home in the face of an elderly man with a known history of repeated falls, suffering from dementia.

This case arose from a nursing home resident who fell out of his wheelchair and passed away at the hospital six days later. His daughter filed a lawsuit alleging, among other claims, the nursing home was negligent when it failed to establish and update a fall prevention plan in the face of decedent’s history of falling that was ongoing.

The District Court Judge first analyzed this case as a medical malpractice case and not a general negligence case as plaintiff had pled. The Court reasoned plaintiff’s claims involved nurse activities that were covered under the Massachusetts regulations. In a medical malpractice claim, one must demonstrate a health care provider’s care fell below the acceptable standard of care, and that deviation from the standard of care was the cause for the injuries suffered. Plaintiffs use experts within that particular health care field to establish the standard of care and whether the care provided fell below this standard. In this case, plaintiff would need a nurse expert to provide this testimony. Because plaintiff’s expert provided testimony related to the standard of care applicable to nursing home administration, and not nurses, the Judge dismissed all theories of negligence except the failure to establish and update a fall prevention plan. This is because as the Distract Court Judge stated “[a]n expert is not required for the jury to conclude that it was negligent to do nothing in terms of [decedent’s] fall plan for almost one year, though he regularly continued to fall.” Aside from a new holding that an expert is not required under circumstances where the nursing home failed to take any action, this case illustrates the importance of retaining attorneys experienced in this field to allege the appropriate theory of liability.