Nursing Home Abuse in Wisconsin

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Laura Schaefer

Wisconsin’s elderly population is growing, specifically over 40% between 2010 and 2022. As more citizens move into retirement age, incidents of nursing home abuse in Wisconsin have sadly risen as a result.

Two dozen nursing homes have closed throughout the state in 2020, and complaints surrounding poor care have reached the thousands. The increased demand along with a lack of supply creates a harsh environment rife with abuse or neglect. Complaints to the state Department of Health Services are surging as a result.

“Many residents are struggling to get their needs met at other senior living facilities…The staffing shortage has turned into a crisis around the region, leading to dangerous conditions at several nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”

Benita Mathew, Wisconsin Watch (2023)

If your loved one suffered abuse or neglect in a Wisconsin nursing home, it’s time to speak with a nursing home neglect attorney. Your loved one deserves a settlement payment for their suffering. If you live in or near Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay or the Fox River Valley, it is time to take action.

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What is Nursing Home Abuse in Wisconsin?

Nursing home abuse in Wisconsin is defined as “willful” harm, pain, or mental anguish done to a resident. But neglect is more subtle, since harmful behavior was caused by negligence rather than intentional harm. A nursing home may be responsible for both neglect and abuse, depending on your case.

Caretakers may purposely withhold or forget to give residents basic care and medications. Sometimes they are under the care of staff who are not properly trained. Any facility caught doing such things should be avoided when finding nursing homes for your loved one in the future.

Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services provides a public and free database of nursing home facilities in the state. It includes the provider or facility’s history and any inspections or violations they have compiled.

IMPORTANT: Facilities are regulated by DHS’ Division of Quality Assurance and all inspection reports and violation notices in the last three years are listed in the database.

The Difference Between Neglect and Abuse in Wisconsin

The difference between neglect and abuse is that abuse comes from intentional harm, while neglect comes from reckless or negligent actions. Both cause irreparable damage to their victims and hold equal grounds in court depending on the case.

Defining Abuse

An old man grabbing his chest, suffering from nursing home physical abuse

The United State’s official definition of abuse is as follows:

“Abuse is the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish.”

42 CFR § 483.5

Wisconsin specifically highlights the following types of abuse in Wis. Stat. § 46.90:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Emotional abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Treatment without consent
  5. Unreasonable confinement without restraint

Defining Neglect

An old man putting his hand over his forehead, suffering emotional abuse in a Wisconsin nursing home.

Wisconsin’s official definition of neglect is as follows:

“the failure of a caregiver, as evidenced by an act, omission, or course of conduct, to endeavor to secure or maintain adequate care, services, or supervision for an individual, including food, clothing, shelter, or physical or mental health care, and creating significant risk or danger to the individual’s physical or mental health.”

Wis. Stat. § 46.90(1)(f)

Your nursing home may not intend to hurt your loved one, but they’re still liable for the damages they caused. Each resident has the right to basic care like food, water, and shelter. If your loved one’s nursing home is not providing those fundamental necessities, they should be held responsible to prevent further harm to others.

Withholding mental and emotional care from your loved one is also a form of neglect punishable by Wisconsin law. Elders in particular are susceptible to emotional abuse when caretakers ignore basic human rights like allowing visitors or letting your loved one participate in group activities.

To read more about Wisconsin law, please visit the state’s Misconduct Definitions page.

Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Be aware of these red flags of abuse outlined by the U.S. Department of Justice. When suspecting physical nursing home abuse, look out for:

  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Unexplained loss of mobility
  • Repeated ER visits
  • Unexplained injuries

Emotional abuse leaves no direct physical injuries, but there are signs this type of behavior is happening:

  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Less eye contact than normal when loved ones visit
  • Being unwilling to speak freely or answer questions
  • Isolation
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Emotional distress when left alone

Spot these warning signs of financial abuse before further extortion and theft is done to your loved one:

  • A lack of access to the resident’s finances
  • Unexplained transfer of assets or money to another person
  • Unexpected changes to a resident’s banking info
  • Abrupt changes to their will or other financial assets
  • Recent reluctance to talk about financial matters
  • Sudden loss of personal belongings
  • Balance statements with transfers to another caregiver

Your loved one may feel guilt or shame when discussing instances of financial abuse. Make sure they’re comfortable talking about such topics to their attorney to make the best claim possible.

How Do I Prove Nursing Home Abuse?

Gather evidence such as:

  • Photos of injuries or bedsores
  • Relevant medical records
  • Witness statements and expert testimony

It’s your attorney’s job to organize the evidence while you recover from your losses. When gathering evidence, the goal is simple: you must establish that the nursing home had a duty of care, breached that duty, which caused harm to your loved one.

How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Wisconsin

Report the abuse to the right authorities before contacting an attorney and moving forward with any legal action. You’ll strengthen your case if you prove that the nursing home knew they were abusing your loved one. This shows they didn’t do enough to stop it, increasing their liability.

If you suspect your loved one is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call 911. Once you’re sure of your loved one’s safety, you can use the following resources to investigate the negligent nursing home.

Any person may report misconduct by an employee or contractor of a Wisconsin treatment provider. Reports may be submitted anonymously.

Submit a public report or contact the long-term care ombudsman program at 1-800-815-0015.

IMPORTANT: You can also contact your Regional Office for information.

Rights Nursing Home Residents Have in Wisconsin

As a resident of a nursing home or long-term care facility in Wisconsin, you own several rights.

These include, but are not limited to, the right to:

  1. Be treated as an individual, with consideration, respect and dignity
  2. Exercise your rights without coercion, interference or retaliation
  3. Be free from all forms of abuse, including psychological and verbal
  4. Be free from humiliation, harassment or threats
  5. Be free from chemical and physical restraints
  6. Be offered choices and allowed to participate in decisions important to you
  7. Expect a reasonable accommodation of your needs and preferences
  8. Participate in the planning of your care and services, and to receive care and services in a way that respects your personal and cultural wishes
  9. Be included in all decisions, even if you are under guardianship, or are under an activated advance directive

Every Wisconsin nursing home must let residents know of their rights before admission to the facility.

Types of Damages Residents Can Sue For

There are three types of damages you can file for in a nursing home abuse claim:

  • Economic damages
  • Non-economic damages
  • Punitive damages

Economic and non-economic damages are filed under compensatory damages, which are compensation for harm, injury, or expenses incurred by the liable defendant(s).

  • Economic damages: Measurable expenses suffered due to abuse or neglect. These expenses may include:
    • Medical care
    • Relocation costs
    • Physical therapy
    • Mental health treatment
  • Non-economic damages are the non-measurable expenses from abuse. The limit on total non-economic damages for cases of nursing home abuse after April 6, 2006, is $750,000 in the state of Wisconsin. Examples of non-economic damages include:
    • Pain and suffering
    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of consortium
    • Disfigurement
    • Loss of enjoyment of life

Punitive damages are designed to punish fraud, malice, or wanton conduct. According to Wis. Stat. § 895.043(6), punitive damages against a nursing home may not exceed twice the awarded compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater.

Wisconsin Statute of Limitations

Before taking legal action, consider your state’s statute of limitations and whether your case meets the deadline. The statute of limitations is the deadline to file your claim before it gets barred from court. Every state, including Wisconsin, has a deadline to prevent cases from dragging on indefinitely.

The statute of limitations for nursing home abuse cases in Wisconsin is three years. There are certain exceptions, however, depending on your case. You can talk to an attorney to know if your case applies, and whether it’s too late to file your claim. The earlier you submit your claim, the higher the chance of a larger settlement.

How a Wisconsin Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Help

Nursing home abuse attorneys typically work undercontingency fees. This means your family won’t have to pay until your loved one’s settlement arrives. A lawyer can guide you through the legal process and secure your family a much higher settlement than if you represent yourself.

Not sure how to locate an attorney?LegalASAP’s attorney network of 500+ law firms can connect you with an experienced legal advocate in Wisconsin. We’ve helped several victims of nursing home abuse find the right attorney to represent them. Call 888-927-3080 or fill out the short evaluation form to fight for your rights.

Laura Schaefer

Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.