What is Nursing Home Law?

Understanding resident rights and signs of mistreatment

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on February 1, 2023

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Nursing homes help older adults with daily activities. They can provide social interaction and help with medical needs, health care, and daily necessities. If you have determined you or your loved one would benefit from a nursing home, you have likely done a lot of research to make sure you pick the best one. One more factor to consider is the law governing nursing homes.

The following overview will help you understand the basics of your relationship with a nursing home, including resident rights and care center responsibilities. This overview will also help alert you to the warning signs of mistreatment or elder abuse.


Laws exist to protect nursing home residents from abuse and neglect. The Nursing Home Reform Act is a federal law that creates a set of regulations nursing homes must follow or risk losing federal funding in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. The act establishes basic rights for residents and responsibilities for nursing facilities. State laws also provide nursing home residents with protections and mechanisms for reporting abuse.

Resident Rights

The NHRA gives residents the general right to care and a good quality of life and well-being. Specifically, residents have the legal right to privacy, including in their personal areas and in their interactions with family members and social groups. Residents of long-term care facilities also have the right to be treated with respect and be free from mistreatment, including needless physical restraints. If nursing homes are not respecting these rights, residents have the right to file complaints without fear of retaliation.

Nursing Home Responsibilities

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are responsible for providing care and a safe place to live. Care centers must make sure there is enough staff to meet the needs of the residents and provide adequate supervision. Homes should conduct assessments of each individual’s needs and create individualized care plans. Each resident should be included in the creation of their care plans, and the medical care center must create and keep medical records outlining the care.

Sometimes you or your loved one may be the victim of elder neglect or abuse. Abuse and neglect are not always overt, so it may be helpful to understand the warning signs so you can evaluate whether you want to speak with a lawyer.


Abuse is any action, intentional or not, that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Abuse can take many forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and financial abuse. Individuals with disabilities or dementia are especially vulnerable to abuse. Signs of physical abuse include bruises, malnutrition, bedsores, ulcers, and frequent use of medical providers. If your loved one’s standard of living is well below their available assets, that may be a sign that someone is taking advantage of their finances.


If caregivers or nursing home staff fail to live up to their responsibilities discussed above, then you might have a case of neglect. Neglect is a type of abuse and is usually manifest in lack of necessities, failure to give necessary medication, poor hygiene, or signs that medical needs are not being attended. Be sure you understand what nursing home care you or your loved one needs so you will notice when it is not being provided.

Common Questions

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. How do I report nursing home abuse?
  2. How do I contact my state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program?
  3. What is the process of reporting to my state’s Department of Human Services?
  4. What is considered nursing home neglect?
  5. What rights do residents have in nursing homes?
  6. What compensation can I get in a nursing home abuse lawsuit?
  7. What are punitive damages?
  8. What is the process for filing a complaint with a nursing home?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for an elder law attorney who has experience with nursing home abuse law.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

If you are concerned about treatment or quality of resident care in a nursing home, a lawyer can help you evaluate your situation and determine whether you should take legal action. If you and your lawyer decide to bring a lawsuit, your lawyer can help you gather evidence, which might include requesting medical records and interviewing potential witnesses.

A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. Your lawyer will also keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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