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Can a Nursing Home Power Outage Be the Basis of Lawsuit?

Extreme heat or cold is dangerous to nursing home residents, whose advanced age and frail health make them especially vulnerable to the hypothermia, heat stroke and dehydration. That is one reason why, since 1990, federal law has required nursing homes and long-term care facilities to keep temperatures at a range of 71 to 81 degrees.

Keeping temperatures in an optimal range requires a steady power supply. But what happens if there is a power failure? Temperatures inside facilities can quickly rise if an outage occurs during a humid New York summer and can plummet if it happens in the middle of winter. In either case, the health of nursing home residents is jeopardized.

In the worst case, a power failure can lead to fatalities. A 2017 power outage led to at least eight deaths at a Florida nursing home due to a lack of air conditioning. Following the incident, a U.S. Senate report found massive deficiencies in disaster preparedness plans at many of the nation’s nursing homes. In the years since, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and state agencies have required facilities to have adequate preparedness plans, but the CMS reports that many facilities are not in compliance.

If your loved one has suffered harm to their health or loss of life due to a power failure at a nursing home, you may have the right to file a negligence or wrongful death lawsuit. If the facility accepts Medicaid, it is required to follow federal regulations, including the requirement that it have a strong backup power supply. If such a facility’s lack of a backup generator can be tied to a resident’s injury or death, it may be the basis for a negligence lawsuit. The facility may also be held liable for failure to take appropriate measures to protect residents’ health during a power outage.

It is more difficult to hold municipal power authority or a utility company liable for health injuries or deaths caused by a power loss. The doctrine of sovereign immunity generally protects government entities from such lawsuits. In New York, power providers must be shown to have committed willful misconduct or gross negligence to be held liable for damages. In most situations, it is the nursing home that bears responsibility for having proper equipment and capable staff on site to care for residents.

Not all nursing home deaths stemming from power failures will form a basis for suing the facility. Your right to pursue a lawsuit will depend on the exact circumstances of the death and whether it can be proved that the facility was negligent.

With offices in Uniondale and Brooklyn, The Licatesi Law Group, LLP handles nursing home negligence and wrongful death cases throughout New York City and Long Island. For a free consultation with our attorneys, please call 516-227-2662 or contact us online.

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