Who is Responsible If My Loved One Wanders Off From a Nursing Home?

Last updated on: February 3, 2023

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When it comes to placing a loved one in the care of a nursing home or long-term care facility, you do so to ensure they will receive the utmost, attentive care, especially if they have impairments such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. Families typically do this due to their inability to adequately supervise and care for their loved one, which makes it purely heartbreaking to learn a loved one has wandered off from a nursing home and gotten injured.

When your loved one is injured after wandering off from a nursing home, you want to know who can be held responsible. If your loved one has been injured after wandering off from a nursing home, call Zinda Law Group today at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free consultation with one of our nursing home wandering lawyers. Speak with a nursing home wandering attorney and have your case evaluated by a professional.


Wandering in nursing homes is not a common occurrence, but it does happen; a study from 2006 shows that one in five people suffering from dementia wander. Studies have also shown that 31% of nursing home residents suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s will wander at least one time, and that those suffering from these cognitive impairments are at a higher risk of injury. If your loved one is injured because they wandered off in or eloped from a nursing home, speak with an injury attorney today to be advised of your rights for your specific case.

What Is the Difference Between Wandering and Elopement in Nursing Homes?

Wandering in nursing homes refers to residents leaving either their room or common areas (“safe areas”) unsupervised and wandering around the facility. Residents who wander do not necessarily have any cognitive impairments that make this wandering especially dangerous, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s; they may just wander off because they are feeling restless. Wandering can become dangerous because it may lead to elopement.

Elopement is simply a more dangerous form of wandering. It occurs when a wandering resident leaves the nursing home premises entirely. Elopement is inherently more dangerous because the residents are exposed to external factors beyond the facility’s control such as roadways, weather conditions, and contact with strangers, which can put the resident at a higher risk of injury.

What Are Common Types of Nursing Home Wandering?

There are three common types of nursing home wandering: aimless, purposeful, and reminiscent. Aimless wandering is when there’s no purpose behind it. Purposeful wandering has intent behind it; this is when a resident is intentionally trying to accomplish something, such as trying to go home or looking for a nurse or another resident.

Reminiscent is the most dangerous kind of wandering and elopement in nursing homes. Reminiscent wandering occurs when a resident is unaware of their surroundings, or confused, and wanders off thinking they are in another time or place. This is typical behavior for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

What External Factors Contribute to Wandering and Elopement in Nursing Homes?

There are many factors outside of cognitive impairment that can lead to wandering and elopement. First, inactivity and boredom can lead to wandering because the resident is more likely to wander off in search of something to do; loneliness is another contributing factor, as residents may wander as either a substitute for social interaction or to find a person to interact with. Residents who have lost or misplaced their personal possessions or mementos are more likely to wander off in search of those things.

Staff behaviors can also lead to an increase in wandering among residents. If staff members are continuously paying extra attention to more disruptive residents, whether they are currently acting out or not, there is less focus and attention on other residents; this lack of attention can lead it an increased number of wandering occurrences among the unattended residents. An inconsistency in staffing and care routines for residents can also lead to gaps in which a resident is unattended, putting that resident at an increased risk of wandering off.

What Injuries Can Result from Nursing Home Wandering?

Injuries that result from wandering can be similar to injuries residents may suffer from other forms of nursing home abuse and negligent. When wandering turns to elopement, however, there are additional hazards a resident may encounter that can make the injuries suffered potentially more severe and may even result in death. Some of these hazards include:

  • High traffic areas
  • Extreme weather
  • A lack of needed medication
  • Bodies of water

Because of these added hazards, the injuries suffered from wandering and elopement are more extensive than other types of nursing home abuse. Residents who wander or elope may suffer:

  • Broken and fractured bones
  • Cuts, abrasions, and scrapes
  • Drowning
  • Dehydration
  • Death

Nursing Home Neglect

Inadequate supervision in a nursing home is usually the result of neglect, and neglect in nursing homes is a form of elderly care abuse. Neglect is a failure to act when needed and comes in two forms: active and passive.

Active neglect occurs when a caretaker intentionally fails to execute their responsibilities to take care of a resident. Passive neglect involves “non-willful failure” to perform caretaking tasks to meet responsibilities. Nursing homes are required to monitor residents regularly and provide necessary care, and passive neglect may occur when this monitoring system fails; such neglect is more often the cause of nursing home wandering and elopement.

When residents are admitted into nursing homes, their physical and mental health are evaluated by the facility to be sure they have the proper staff available to take proper care of the resident and their needs. During this evaluation, the resident will also be evaluated to determine what risk they pose for wandering off.

Neglect in nursing homes may result from several causes. The facility may be understaffed, or the staff may not be qualified for their assigned responsibilities; additionally, the facility may have performed inadequate background checks on employees before hiring them. Even if the staff in the facility is fully qualified, for some reason or another they may fail to perform periodic evaluations on residents to continue to assess their risks for wandering off.

What to Do If You Suspect Abuse or Neglect

If you suspect your loved one has wandered off before or repeatedly due to neglect, the first thing you should do is talk to them, as they may be able to reasonably explain why they are leaving the areas where they should remain. If they cannot, or you believe your loved one is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. If your loved one has a cognitive impairment that prevents you from getting accurate information from them, examine them for signs of injury.

You can try to speak with the staff at the facility to make them aware of the situation and have them correct it. If nothing changes after reporting the neglect or abuse to the facility, your next step should be to file a complaint with the appropriate state agency where you live, such as the Department of Health.

From the moment you suspect abuse, document everything. Take pictures of injuries and keep medical records regarding your loved one’s treatment; keep copies of any accident reports that are filed and a written record of your recollections about concerning events or abnormalities that have occurred which led you to suspect abuse or neglect. This information will likely prove useful later and can assist an injury lawyer in pursuing a claim against the responsible parties.

Can I Sue for Nursing Home Neglect?

You can bring a case for nursing home neglect in whichever state your loved one resides. Each state has their own specific procedures for nursing home abuse and neglect cases; some states make legal distinctions between abuse and neglect, giving them separate standards of proof and consequences. To learn which ones apply to your circumstances, speak with a personal injury attorney to have your case evaluated and to find out what the procedures are for filing a complaint or a lawsuit your state.

The sooner you speak with personal injury lawyer, the better chance you have at success when pursuing a claim; this is because all types of claims, both civil and criminal, are subject to statutes of limitations. These statutes are effectively time limits on how long you have a right to make your claim before it is barred forever. A civil claim for nursing home neglect may overlap with criminal charges, and an experienced nursing home wandering attorney will be able to help you navigate the legal issues related to the overlap of cases.

Who Can Be Held Responsible If My Loved One Wanders or Elopes?

In a nursing home setting, a resident will interact daily with other residents, staff members, and caregivers who are responsible for providing proper supervision. Anyone responsible for your loved one’s care, even remotely, could potentially be liable for injuries or harm. This might include:

  • Caretakers
  • Nurses and Doctors
  • Facility Staff
  • The Facility itself

Most often, it will be the facility who will likely be held responsible, as the facility is responsible for staffing, intake and period evaluation criteria, and care routines.

Where Can I Find a Lawyer?

Finding the right lawyer may seem difficult, but there are plenty of resources available to make the process easier. For example, you can always find personal injury lawyers through the American Bar Association online. You can also check websites of smaller bar associations within your state and city to find a lawyer closer to you. For example, you can search for nursing home wandering lawyers in New Mexico through the New Mexico State Bar Association’s website, and if you live in Albuquerque, you can look through the Albuquerque Bar Association’s website for lawyers too.

Choose a nursing home wandering attorney who has the experience and skill needed to handle your case, and a track record of success in pursing personal injury claims. Zinda Law Group’s nursing home wandering lawyers  have experience with pursuing compensation for nursing home injury claims for clients nationwide and an outstanding record of success in handling these matters for our clients.

What Can I Recover in a Nursing Home Injury Case?

Typically, in a personal injury case, compensatory damages will be recovered. Compensatory damages comprise of both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the actual monetary costs incurred because of an injury or illness, such as medical bills, while non-economic damages provide compensation for pain and suffering.

Economic damages can help you recover for any number of out-of-pocket costs you have incurred, such as when you paid for medical bills, mental health therapy, physical therapy, and the costs associated with changing nursing homes or facilities for your loved one. Though nursing home neglect lawsuits do not typically make it to trial, they are often settled out of court, bringing the plaintiff compensation without needing to convince a jury to give a favorable verdict.

How Zinda Can Help You

If your loved one has suffered an injury after wandering or eloping from a nursing home, you may feel at a loss over what to do next. Our experienced nursing home wandering lawyers at Zinda Law Group can assist you with recovering the costs associated with your loved one’s injury. Our attorneys who have been successful with nursing home wandering cases will guide you through the often complex legal system to help file your claim and ensure you receive the maximum compensation you are entitled to.

If your loved one was injured while wandering around or eloping from a nursing home, call Zinda Law Group today at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation with one of our nursing home wandering lawyers. We will take care of the legal work so you can focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time. If we do not win your case, you will not pay any fees; this is our No Win, No Fee Guarantee.

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