Many theft claims result in police reports, criminal investigations, and post-conviction restitution. After police locate the offender and prosecutors prove their guilt, judges should order the defendant to return the property or financially compensate the victim for the loss.
However, criminal convictions require prosecutors to identify the guilty party and prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It may take weeks before family members notice a patient’s credit card, jewelry, or other belongings missing. As such, it’s often difficult for investigators to identify thieves at nursing homes. Busy police officers might even delay or ignore nursing home theft cases after an initial inquiry.
Families may file a private civil action to recover compensation for misused, lost, or stolen property in nursing homes. Attorneys might allege numerous causes of action, including breach of contract, conversion, fraud, and negligence to help wronged nursing home residents recover damages for the loss, mismanagement, or theft of their money or possessions. If you suspect a nursing home or nursing staff misused, stole, or fraudulently obtained a loved one’s property, a plaintiff’s lawyer might assist you.
Confronting Nursing Home Administrators about Missing Items
When a loved one’s valuables disappear, family members often raise their concerns with the nursing staff. Sometimes administrators placed valuables in a safe or sent them home with another family member. However, most staff members have no answers when you report lost or stolen items. Managers might immediately deny liability or claim the patient waived their right to claim compensation for stolen items in the admissions contract.
Do not let these self-serving claims stop you from demanding answers and, if necessary, compensation for mismanagement, negligence, or theft.
Nursing homes must safeguard the patient’s essential freedoms, and this often includes their property rights. Property theft usually opens an investigation into unlawful employee conduct, safety violations, medical negligence, and patient abuse.
Reviewing the Patient’s Admissions Contract and Waivers
Patients receiving residential nursing care must sign admissions contracts and treatment agreements with the healthcare facility. Families should review these contracts for hidden terms and conditions involving patient property. Sometimes care homes include phrases indicating that patients assume the risk of bringing personal property onto the premises. Still, these clauses frequently violate state law and do not excuse intentional criminal conduct. Further, many patients suffering from serious medical conditions cannot reasonably understand or execute these waivers upon admission.
Patients might also need certain personal items, such as glasses, cash, and cell phones, to function or connect with family. Nursing facilities must typically protect your loved one’s property from financial predators and mentally unstable co-residents even when they covertly force patients to sign property waivers. Consider asking a local nursing home abuse lawyer to review any admissions documents, as well as alleged property theft and mismanagement waivers.
Common Types of Property Loss at Long-Term Care Facilities
Family members must distinguish between unintentional property loss, theft by another individual for financial gain, and mismanagement of belongings indicative of systemic nursing home abuse and predatory behavior.
The most common personal items reported missing at nursing facilities include:
- Hearing aids
- Identity documents
Initially, family members should consider the condition of the loved one’s mental health when raising theft allegations. Sometimes dementia patients do not understand their children have their wedding rings. Confused patients might also inadvertently take property belonging to another resident, thinking it to be their own. In such cases, nursing staff might search patients’ rooms during recreational time for the allegedly lost or misplaced property. Reviewing visitor logs might also help family members identify whether a friend or predatory visitor stole money or property from the patient.
Nursing homes must generally identify and record the name of visitors and their visitation timeframe. If the facility did not have sufficient security in place and failed to protect the patient’s belongings from third parties, families might hold the nursing home directly liable for negligence.
Distinguishing General Theft and Loss from Financial Fraud and Abuse at Nursing Homes
Predatory caretakers often target the property, identity, and finances of ailing patients. Financial predators may build a relationship with the patient before unlawfully asking for money, periodically taking cash from the patient’s wallet, or stealing the patient’s identity to drain their finances. Families should immediately contact the patient’s financial institution and speak with an attorney about safeguarding a loved one’s finances if they notice unauthorized or strange transactions.
Further, financial predators often engage in other types of abusive behavior to keep patients quiet and compliant. Legal professionals, family members, and investigators should look for signs of psychological manipulation, physical restraint, and sexual abuse during financial fraud investigations. Broken glasses and missing personal items are often the first sign of abusive behavior in nursing homes.
Holding Long-Term Care Facilities, Nursing Staff, Abusers, and Financial Predators Liable for Loss, Mismanagement, or Theft of Property
No matter the underlying legal theory, victims may hold an individual directly responsible for stealing, misusing, or losing the victim’s property liable for civil damages. However, problems arise when you cannot determine who violated your loved one’s property rights. Nurses may blame another patient, the patient may blame a custodian, and the facility might blame a private health aide.
Without direct testimony and incriminating evidence linking one individual to the unlawful conduct, families often wonder whether they can hold the nursing facility liable for the patient’s losses. This type of liability usually depends on the case’s facts and the specific kind of alleged loss. Lawyers might help families recover financial compensation for damages related to the stolen or misused property from liable parties under the following legal theories.
Civil Theft (Conversion)
If families identify the thief but cannot recover the property, such as if the defendant broke, lost, or sold it, they may request financial compensation for unlawful conversion. Some states also have separate statutes authorizing civil actions for theft. Nursing facilities are vicariously and automatically liable for the wrongful acts of their employees. As such, families may request damages directly from the facility if the evidence indicates a nursing home employee stole or broke the resident’s property.
While this claim commonly arises during personal injury litigation, it also covers property loss and misuse. Suppose negligent supervision or monitoring of visitors lead to theft, or lax hiring policies gave a dangerous individual access to your loved one’s belongings. In that case, an attorney may request damages from the facility under this legal theory.
Most states also require nursing homes to create policies and procedures to prevent, report, and respond to theft. If a nursing home violated its procedures or failed to establish reasonable safety guidelines, a lawyer may hold the facility liable for your loved one’s lost or stolen property.
Consider having an attorney review the nursing home’s property protection and theft regulations for compliance. Negligence may support a demand for compensation when investigators cannot directly identify the thief or the nursing facility did not employ the culprit, such as a contractor, visitor, or another resident.
Misappropriation of Property (Trespass to Chattels)
Misappropriation refers to a nursing home’s intentional and wrongful taking or misuse of a loved one’s belongings. This claim covers situations when nursing staff wrongfully take belongings under the guise of authority. Generally, staff cannot take away a resident’s clothing, eyeglasses, or other personal items without lawful consent. The law presumes nursing home residents consent to specific medically necessary actions, such as staff removing jewelry before an MRI.
Still, employees may not withhold a resident’s personal property without proper authority. Examples of misappropriation include hiding the resident’s cell phone, using the resident’s credit card, lying about the patient’s property rights, and unlawfully locking personal items away. Misappropriation investigations often reveal evidence of widespread physical, emotional, and financial abuse of nursing home residents.
Most states define fraud as an intentional or careless misrepresentation of facts that cause loss or harm. Fraud claims often cover predator behaviors, including lying to patients about their property rights to receive permission to take their property, unlawfully billing residents and insurers for services not rendered, and convincing residents to give staff members cash or other compensation not lawfully owed.
While theft claims cover direct takings, like taking jewelry from a patient’s nightstand, fraud involves manipulation, whereby predators illegally obtain the resident’s consent to remove or misuse their personal property. Most states consider fraud a civil cause of action and a crime.
Breach of Contract
Many residential admission contracts incorporate the nursing facility’s property safety guidelines and patient bill of rights by reference. As such, an attorney might demand compensation for any losses if the facility breached its contractual agreement with the patient.
Breach of contract claims might result in quick financial recoveries because the nursing home cannot shift contractual liability onto a third party, such as a visitor, staff member, or co-resident. Instead, the facility must generally compensate claimants for damages resulting from the breach and then go after another liable party for indemnification.
Whether an attorney raises conversion, misappropriation, or fraud claims, the long-term care facility generally bears liability for your loved one’s lost, stolen, or misused belongings. Once a resident enters the facility, the care home takes legal responsibility for protecting the overall health, safety, and well-being of vulnerable patients. Most states agree that these duties include safeguarding your loved one’s financials and personal belongings from thieves and financial predators.
Nursing home liability often exists as a matter of law, such as vicarious responsibility for employees’ unlawful actions. It might also involve direct claims against the nursing facility for negligence, like failing to establish sufficient property safety protocols or engaging in systemic healthcare billing fraud that results in financial losses to the patient.
Recovering Direct and Incidental Damages for Theft, Misappropriation, and Lost Personal Items at Nursing Facilities
For many patients, the personal items they bring to their nursing homes hold significant emotional value. Family heirlooms, bibles, wedding bands, and gifts from grandchildren all have a special meaning for residents living away from home. Other items, such as warm clothing, dentures, glasses, and hearing aids, also directly impact the patient’s quality of life. Whether staff members accidentally throw away a birthday card, take away the patient’s telephone, or fraudulently drain the resident’s bank account, patients often suffer financially, emotionally, and physically from these losses.
Patients or their family members may claim both direct damages associated with the theft, such as the appraised value of jewelry, and incidental damages stemming from the loss. Incidental damages may include:
- Emotional anguish
- Medical bills associated with the loss
- A sudden decline in the patient’s mental health, based on systemic financial and emotional abuse
- Financial losses related to identity theft
- The cost of recovering or replacing an item
- The cost of transferring facilities to avoid future economic losses
- Interest on stolen or misappropriated property
Residents might also speak with an attorney about recovering statutory or other permissible damages if nursing homes violated the patient’s basic property rights. Many states expressly prohibit nursing facilities from interfering with the patient’s personal property in response to the prevalence of fraud and theft at long-term care facilities. These regulations may open the door for additional damages.
Working With Local Lawyers to Uncover Systemic Theft, Fraud, and Abuse at Residential Care Homes
Missing and damaged personal property in nursing homes often leads to shocking discoveries. What starts as a theft investigation might reveal evidence of medical neglect, healthcare fraud, physical assault, physiological abuse, and sex crimes in nursing homes.
Damaged items, such as glasses, jewelry, and cell phones, can indicate potential physical and sexual abuse. Identity and credit card theft might further support allegations of emotional abuse and widespread healthcare fraud. Do not underestimate the criminal potential of those willing to manipulate, steal from, or financial damage vulnerable nursing home residents.
Local attorneys, including medical malpractice and nursing home abuse litigators, might help residents and their families enforce their patient rights, file civil theft litigation, and report potential theft, abuse, and fraud to law enforcement. A lawyer might also claim reimbursement from the facility’s property insurers and retain private physicians and investigators to uncover potential abuse. Most plaintiffs’ firms offer free and confidential nursing home theft and abuse consultations. Contact Brauns Law, PC to learn more about your legal options.