After a serious accident or permanent injury, the injury victim and their family may want to continue living in their home. However, some homes are not equipped for the lifestyle and safety changes to accommodate the injury, dysfunction, or impairment. Home modifications can adapt the home to provide for the patient and provide a safe and comfortable place to live after an injury.
Modifications to the Home After an Injury
There are a number of modifications to the home that may be necessary or beneficial after an injury. The extent of modifications may depend on the current suitability of the home, the extent of the injury, and the permanence of the injury. Some homes may need no modification and other homes may be impractical to adapt for the type of injury.
When thinking about home modifications, consider how limiting the standard home may be. Knob door handles can be difficult to turn for someone with limited hand strength or mobility and may have to be replaced with lever door handles. Light switches are 4 feet or higher off the ground and may be difficult to reach. In places like the kitchen, more than half of the storage space may be completely inaccessible. The following provides information for some of the types of home modifications for injury victims.
Temporary Modifications for Temporary Injuries
Some injuries are temporary and may only require temporary modifications. This may involve purchasing or renting medical equipment to help the patient deal with their day-to-day needs while they recover from their injury. Some examples may include:
- Wheelchair ramp
- Bathtub handholds
- Shower chairs
- Toilet seats and handholds
Some of these modifications can be set up temporarily and be put away or returned to a medical equipment rental company after they are no longer necessary.
Mobility Modifications Outside the Home
Home modifications begin outside the home. Outside modifications may be necessary for the individual to be able to get from a vehicle inside the home. For homes without private or separate parking, a dedicated disabled parking spot may allow the individual to park near their home. Other outside modifications may include a ramp, change in grading, change in walkway or approach material, and improved lighting.
Entryway Modifications and Ramps
Many homes have stairs to the front door that can be difficult or impossible to navigate for someone with mobility issues. If there are a number of steps or a steep stairway, a ramp may not be practical and the only other options may be an elevator or motorized chair.
Widening Doorways and Hallways
Your home's doorways and hallways may seem wide enough when walking but may become impossible to navigate with a wheelchair. A wheelchair also has a wider turning radius, which may be an issue in older homes with sharp turns and multiple doorways. If moving furniture or removing doors is not enough to provide for getting around by a wheelchair, doorways or hallways may have to be widened or moved. This may require structural changes and can be a more involved and expensive proposition.
Bathroom and Cleaning Modifications
Bathrooms regularly need modifications as they can be difficult to use for someone with a disability. Many bathrooms in older homes are small and narrow and cannot accommodate a wheelchair. Individuals also need a way to get from a wheelchair to the toilet or wheelchair to the bath. Bathtubs can present another hazard as they are slippery from water and soap and can increase the risk of a slip and fall.
Minor home modifications in a bathroom include grab bars, raised toilet seats, and handrails. Some patients may require assistance to use the bathroom, shower, bathe, or take care of their hygiene. For assistance, the bathroom size may have to be increased to provide room for the patient, caregiver, and assistive devices.
Showers may have to have a separate thermostat or shut off if the water gets too hot and poses a scalding risk. Individuals who are non-verbal may not be able to express pain or discomfort in water that is too hot or cold. Bathrooms may also have to be modified to allow access to the sink and address exposed hot-water pipes that may present a burn injury risk.
Kitchen and Cooking Modifications
The kitchen can be one of the most problematic rooms to modify, especially for an independent person who plans to cook most of their meals. High cupboards may be inaccessible and if the individual is wheelchair-bound, most of the counter space may have limited function. The sink, freezer, or microwave may also be out of reach. Kitchen modifications for some may involve dropping the level of usable space down to an area that is comfortable for the user.
Home Hazards and Burn Injuries
There are a number of fall hazards and burn injury risks inside the average home. These are the kinds of things parents think about when they have young children in the home but may forget about for people with a disability, paralysis, or mobility problems. Stairs and uneven surfaces present a fall risk. Sharp corners and protrusions, especially at the head level, can pose another risk of injury.
The surfaces of a home may also have to be changed. Loose rugs can become tangled in a wheelchair or pose a trip hazard for someone with limited mobility. The surface of the kitchen, bathroom, or sidewalk may need non-skid surface materials to reduce the risk of a slip and fall accident.
Burn injury hazards exist all over the home. The water that comes out of a hot water heater may be hot enough to scald or cause burn injuries to the skin. Cooking and having hot liquids at above eye level may be difficult for a person with a disability to deal with and could increase the risk of a burn injury. Paralyzed individuals may have no feeling in parts of their bodies and could be suffering a burn injury without noticing.
When Does Someone Need Home Modifications After an Injury?
Any time a person's home does not safely accommodate their physical ability or medical conditions, a home modification may be necessary. Many people go through a natural transition where they realize some of the things they could do while younger and healthier are more difficult while older. This includes going up and down stairs, navigating with poor lighting, or cracked walkways that present a fall hazard.
All of the deficiencies in a home can become very stark after an accident or injury and make using or accessing the home difficult or even impossible without modifications. Modifications after an injury can be categorized based on the physical injury, dysfunction, or limitation. These generally include:
- Mobility modifications
- Safety modifications
- Access modifications
- Caregiver modifications
When someone is no longer able to walk, navigate stairs or uneven surfaces, or is paralyzed, they may not be able to move around the home unassisted. Mobility modifications include installing ramps, widening doorways or hallways to accommodate a wheelchair, or installing powered stairs or elevators.
There are a number of safety considerations after an injury, primarily consisting of fall risks and burn injury risks. Fall risk safety modifications may include a roll-in shower where the individual does not have to worry about slipping when getting into or out of a bathtub. Burn injury risks are a concern for people who are paralyzed or have reduced sensitivity. Exposed hot water pipes may have to be covered to prevent a burn to the skin.
Access modifications can include changing the approach to the home. This may include securing a handicap parking spot, leveling and widening walkways and driveways, and making sure there is proper lighting installed for the individual to get safely in and out of the home.
There may also need to be caregiver modifications, depending on the home care situation. If there is a live-in caregiver, the homeowner may need to make sure there is space for the caregiver to stay, including basic necessities for the caregiver's needs to best provide for the patient.
Home Evaluation Before Hospital Discharge
Before any home modifications are done, a home evaluation may be conducted to look at the hazards and safety concerns in the home. Some people are hesitant to let a stranger in the home, especially after their life has been turned upside down by a sudden illness or accident. However, a proper evaluation can identify potential safety issues and give the injury victim the best chance for a healthy and safe return home.
Personal Injury Accident
Home modifications may be necessary after a serious injury accident. A personal injury accident could include traumatic events like a car accident, construction site injury, or sporting injury. Some of the most common types of injuries that require home modifications include:
Loss of a limb, spinal cord injuries, and some brain injuries may make it difficult for the individual to walk, step up or down, stand, or reach high places. Other traumatic brain injuries can cause mental impairment, leaving the patient to fully rely on a caregiver for basic needs, including feeding, cleaning, and going to the bathroom.
Medical Malpractice Injury
Medical malpractice covers a broad range of injuries that are caused by the negligence of a doctor or healthcare professional. Medical malpractice can lead to a number of impairments or disabilities that may require home modifications, including:
Medical malpractice injuries may leave the injury victim bedbound or paralyzed, requiring around-the-clock care. For many immobile patients, there is an increase in related or secondary health concerns, like infections, pressure sores, or pneumonia. The individual's home may need to be modified to accommodate regular transport by an ambulance to and from a clinic or hospital.
Birth injuries that require home modifications can be difficult for parents. Modifying the home for a child with a birth injury may require regular updates and changes over time as the child grows and the healthcare needs change. Some of the most serious birth injuries are caused by oxygen deficiency brain injuries, including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
The long-term effects of birth injury brain damage may not be known until after the child gets older and begins missing developmental milestones. Serious brain injury may include physical and cognitive dysfunction.
- Limited brain function
- Hearing difficulty
- Vision problems
- Impaired motor skills
- Inability to crawl or walk
- Spastic movements
- Impaired balance and coordination
Home modifications may not be necessary when the child is still an infant. As the child gets older and increases mobility or can use assistive devices, modifications may become necessary. This includes accommodating a wheelchair or mobility device, bathroom accommodations for the child to provide for basic needs, and safety measures to protect the child from falls or burn injuries.
Cost of Home Modifications
The cost of home modifications can be expensive. Even simple modifications like putting in a ramp may cost $1,000 to $3,000. If there needs to be structural changes to the home or equipment like an elevator, the costs can rise quickly. Insurance or Medicare may partially cover some of the expenses. In some cases, homeowners may be eligible for home modification state tax credits. Much of the cost will still have to be borne by the patient and the patient's family.
If the injury requiring the home modification was caused by negligence or medical malpractice, the injury victim should not have to pay for the expenses. The individual or parties responsible for causing the injury should have to pay for their actions. In a malpractice or personal injury lawsuit, the injury victim can seek damages to cover the expenses and losses related to the accident. Damages may include:
- Medical expenses
- Home modification expenses
- Future medical care
If you have questions about paying for the costs of home modifications after an accident, birth injury, or medical error, talk to your attorney about how to recover compensation for those expenses, as well as other non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Home Modifications After an Injury Accident or Medical Error
Home modifications can be difficult to deal with after a serious injury accident, medical error, or birth injury. Many injury victims and their families have questions about how they will cover the costs of equipping their home and if they can wait to make modifications until after dealing with the insurance claims.
If your family member suffered an injury that leaves them bed-bound or unable to walk, talk to an experienced trial attorney about your options for recovery. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.