Where's your next lawsuit coming from?

John O'Connor
John O'Connor

If you provide long-term care services, lawsuits pretty much come with the territory. There's just no getting around that reality when you are in a field that delivers care to more than 1.5 million people each year.

Throw in families racked with guilt, greedy relatives, a parsimonious payment system and the legitimate and dubious problems that inevitably happen, and it's pretty clear you'd better be lawyered up.

Still, it helps to know where the trouble spots are — or are likely to be. And if a recent survey of about 800 corporate attorneys is to be believed, there's no shortage of things to lose sleep over.

Regulatory oversight/investigations and class action lawsuits topped corporate counsel's list of concerns, according to a just-released Norton Rose Fulbright survey.

But they were given a run for the money by contracts (38%) and labor/employment lawsuits (37%), respondents indicated.

“One common theme comes through loud and clear — corporate counsel around the world see the growing litigiousness of the business environment as an important trend that bears watching,” said Gerry Pecht, the firm's head of dispute resolutions and litigation.

And it's not like you need to be brazenly misbehaving to get in trouble. Consider what happened in Long Beach, CA, last year. There, a class action lawsuit was filed against a company that runs nearly 60 facilities across the state. The action alleged unfair business practices and residents' rights violations. But the law firm representing Brius Management found the accusations dubious at best.

“This lawsuit is filled with baseless and untrue allegations,” the statement said. In fact, seemingly meritless claims against businesses appear to be gaining traction, the survey revealed.

“We are seeing class actions brought where there is no harm and we are starting to see courts allow this,” one of the survey respondents pointed out.

For years, the long-term care field has tried to get states and the federal government to limit the damage. The effort has seen some success at the state level. But most insiders agree a federal law ushering in tort reform is all but impossible. Let's face it: Plaintiffs' attorneys simply have more clout in Congress.

And as eldercare becomes a more complex business, it's probably safe to say operators will face even more legal challenges. That may not be such good news for you. But look on the bright side. At least it could help fill up the nation's law schools.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.