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Photographing Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes

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Too often at the Jehl Law Group we see cases of neglect and abuse of seniors. We hear about loved ones who have had infected wounds, broken bones, and other traumatic injuries. Sadly, clients tell us tales of people left for hours on end unattended, who are found lying in their own excrement by family members who come to visit them at healthcare facilities. Most often we hear about nursing home residents who develop pressure sores or bed sores, which are wounds that develop destroying the skin and underlying tissue when nursing home staff fail to turn or reposition residents with limited ability to move. In such cases, the testimony of a witness describing the wounds or lack of care can be very powerful, but oftentimes a photograph can have even greater impact. However, there are several things to keep in mind when obtaining a photograph to make sure that it is admissible at trial and also helpful in your loved one’s case.

In order for a photograph to be used in court, it has to be properly authenticated, which is a legal term that basically means a judge has to determine that a picture shows what you claim it shows. The court wants to make sure that the photograph is not photo-shopped or a picture of someone or something else. That might sound complicated, but it is actually pretty simple. In order to “properly authenticate” a photo, the person that actually took the picture or someone else that was present when the picture was taken needs to be able to testify that the picture accurately represents what the picture shows. For example, if the picture is of a wound, the person who took the picture or a person who was present when the picture was taken simply needs to testify that the picture accurately depicts the condition of the wound at the time the picture was taken.  In order to do that, it is helpful if the person testifying can answer these questions: when was the picture taken (the more specific the better), where was the picture taken, and does the picture accurately depict the wound?  Thus, it is always best to ask a health care provider to take and provide you with photographs of any wounds.  You should not remove bandages yourself or touch a wound, as this can increase the risk of infection.

Just because something is admissible, does not mean that it will be useful in your loved one’s case. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Picture quality can make all the difference in a case. If a picture is grainy or unclear, it might not have as much use. It is best to have a healthcare provider take any photos. Ask them to make sure they indicate the measurements and stages of any wounds.
  • Cleanliness is very important! When it comes to wounds, you have to be very careful. You do not want to touch a wound and possibly cause an infection. Keep in mind that even if you do not actually cause an infection, the opposing attorneys can always argue that you did. It is also important to make sure that you never remove bandages by yourself. If there is a freshly bandaged wound and you would like to document it, make sure that you ask a licensed nurse or physician to remove the bandages. Make sure that they are wearing gloves as well.
  • Respect the dignity of your loved one. Oftentimes, people are overwhelmed when they see injuries or a lack of care for their friends and family members, and they rush to take as many pictures as possible. For instance, when nursing home residents have not been changed or they are sitting in their own bowel and bladder movements, people will sometimes take multiple pictures to make sure that they document it. However, more is not always better. As much as possible, you should strive to be respectful of the dignity of your family member or friend.

If you believe that your loved one has suffered from abuse or neglect in a nursing home, contact the Jehl Law Group today. Our attorneys have years of experience with these types of cases, and we believe in fighting for and protecting the rights of the elderly.