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New York Times: 'Lawsuits don't lead to better nursing home care'

Remember that headline? It was printed in the New York Times about a year and a half ago. It came as something of a surprise to many: suing nursing homes doesn't result in better care? How can that be, they wondered.

The conclusion came from an exhaustive study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that found that the very best nursing homes are sued nearly as often as the very worst. It is clear that people in this litigious world often believe that a bad outcome must mean that someone was negligent.

An author of the Harvard Medical School analysis of nursing home litigation found that "the worst facilities" faced a litigation risk of about 47 percent, while "(i)n the best, it was about 40 percent."

His conclusion is that there is "a fairly modest difference between the very best and the very worst facilities" when it comes to the possibility of facing a lawsuit.

In some cases, the urge to sue might be understandable. A family loses a loved one, and in their grief, their first reaction is to blame someone -- too often the nursing home professionals who were there to care for the loved one.

In reality, it is so often the case that there is simply nothing medically to be done; the loved one had come to the end of a long and productive life.

As the study shows, some families are simply unable to accept that a negative outcome -- the loss of their loved one -- is not necessarily anyone's fault.

Sometimes a grieving family can come to grips with the reality of their loss after a frank discussion with a thoughtful attorney skilled in nursing home defense. In other situations, litigation ensues and a facility and its insurer must do all they can to protect their rights and interests.

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