When residents are admitted to a nursing home, they do not give up their right to smoke. However, if they are going to smoke, it is the nursing home staff’s responsibility to develop a care plan and make sure that it is done safely. Many nursing home residents have physical and mental conditions that make it risky to smoke.
There are a couple of different scenarios which commonly produce burn injuries in nursing homes from cigarettes and other smoking materials:
- The resident is unable to properly handle a cigarette and drops onto his or her own clothing or blankets, and due to physical or mental limitations is unable to remove it before a fire starts;
- The resident is using supplemental oxygen and the combination of concentrated oxygen and the flame from the cigarette starts a flash fire.
Common steps that should be taken to minimize the risk of a smoking accident in a nursing home include:
- Encourage the nursing home resident to quit smoking
- Establish a smoking area which is designated as the only area on the premises in which smoking is permitted
- Strictly enforce tobacco use policies
- Require supervision while smoking for residents who are unable to safely handle smoking materials
- Require removal of supplemental oxygen supplies while smoking
- Educate the resident on steps that must be taken to assure safe smoking
- Limit access to tobacco materials for residents who are unable to safely handle smoking materials so that no smoking is done without staff supervision.
Fires from cigarettes are a tragically common occurrence in nursing homes and result in several serious burn injuries and wrongful deaths each year. While smoking is certainly not a healthy habit, it can also be a dangerous one for nursing home residents. The safety hazard posed by handling cigarettes and other smoking materials must be addressed in the resident care plan and whatever interventions are designated must in fact be carried out by the staff.As experienced Chicago nursing home lawyers, we recognize that an important part of achieving success in cases like these rests in focusing the attention of the jury on the actions and inactions of the staff, rather than the nursing home resident.