There is an affiliation of attorneys that have their sights set on filing class action lawsuits against senior living providers. Are you one of their targets?
By Steve Moran
I slept late (for me), then went out for run . . . which I know is hard for you to imagine given my girth, but I am determined to reduce that. I sat on the back porch with the Sunday paper and on page 3 of the local section I found this:
I have done a couple of interviews with Dwayne Clark. The stories have been cool and he was fun to talk to. I have visited some of their communities and always come away with a good impression so it was a big surprise to see this.
I went digging and found the initial filing — which you can read at the bottom of this article. The crux of the lawsuit is that Aegis uses a point system to determine the amount they charge residents for care, but that there is no significant relationship between the level of care points for the residents and staffing.
Then I went digging further. It turns out there is an affiliation of attorneys that have their sights set on filing class action lawsuits against senior living providers.
So far they have targeted (or appear to be targeting):
Aegis Senior Living
Sunrise Senior Living
Oakmont Senior Living
It seems likely this list will expand.
Today they seem to be primarily focused on organizations that do business in California, as well as other states that have laws and court systems that are favorable to these kinds of actions. The focus of these actions seem to be evolving, but today they focus on two areas . . .
Staffing and charges for levels of care
That not providing adequate staffing (as defined by the plaintiff and their attorneys) is a violation of the ADA.
Here Is the Problem
Class action suits are a special kind of hell. They were originally intended to bring relief and force fairness where the individual damage — and therefore claim — was so small that a lawsuit would make no sense. They have very broad discovery laws that make them massively expensive to defend against.
However, they have since turned into a bludgeon that attorneys will use to make huge amounts of money for themselves, yet actually generate tiny amounts of money for the plaintiffs. What typically ends up happening is that it is less expensive for the companies to settle than fight. So the attorneys win, yet nothing really changes, because nothing needed to change. The residents and families who thought they were going to see a big payday spend a lot of time and emotion, while only receiving maybe a few hundred dollars for all the grief.
I spent a bit of time talking to Elizabeth Chambers, the general council for Aegis and as expected she could not provide a lot of commentary except to say that providing quality care is their number one priority and that they staff to meet their residents needs.
Protecting Your Organization
I spent some time talking to Joel Goldman, an attorney who specializes in senior living and who is very familiar with these legal actions. His first comment was this:
“There is nothing you can do to prevent an aggressive trial lawyer from filing suit against your organization.”
Totally depressed, I asked what kinds of things senior living organizations can do to protect themselves (note this is not legal advice). He offered 4 areas worth looking at or working on:
Have great insurance.
Make sure your marketing materials are not making promises you can’t keep.
Make sure your marketing and sales people are not making verbal promises that are inconsistent with what you are providing.
Make sure that all of your internal correspondence makes it clear that quality of care is your highest priority. An email or memo that says something like, “Our number one goal is to get to 91% occupancy”, could come back to bite big time.
And while it should go without saying, and I believe is true for the vast majority of the sector, make sure you really are making quality care your number one goal.
Finally, I find myself thinking this is an area that the various groups that represent senior living organizations need to spend some serious lobbying chips to get the laws changed to prevent these things from happening.
Note to Consumers: While this is an industry blog I know occassionally consumers stumble across these article. You, as a consumer should know these are great companies being unfairly singled out because they are good at what they are doing. You should have every confidence that Aegis Senior Living will do a great job caring for you or your loved one. That what these lawsuits are doing is raising the cost of accessing senior living for your family and for every other family who is looking for these services.
If there were a serious problem related to a specific resident, there would be no class action, but a real traditional lawsuit. – Steve Moran