Reasons to lawyer up

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

When you provide long-term care services, lawsuits pretty much come with the territory. There's just no getting around that reality 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 that operators need to be lawyered up.

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 recently 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. In Long Beach, CA, last year, 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. And the courts are allowing this.

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.