We’re continuing our series about nursing homes.  Over the last few weeks we’ve written about falls, medication errors and dehydration in nursing homes.

This week we want to talk about an article that recently appeared in the New York Times:  Nursing Homes Are Hot Spots in the Crisis.  But Don’t Try Suing Them.

In the chaotic days of late March, as it became clear that New York was facing a catastrophic outbreak of the coronavirus, aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo quietly inserted a provision on Page 347 of New York’s final, voluminous budget bill.

Many lawmakers were unaware of the language when they approved the budget a few days later. But it provided unusual legal protections for an influential industry that has been devastated by the crisis: nursing home operators.

The measure, lobbied for by industry representatives, shielded nursing homes from many lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.

Poor staffing and shoddy conditions allowed COVID-19 to spread out of control throughout nursing homes.  The same problems cause other challenges for residents.

We’re really lucky to live in Washington State.  Our legislature has given families a lot of power with the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act.Washington’s Abuse of Vulnerable Adult Statute protects the rights of people over 60 and anyone living in a nursing home.  It protects vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitationThe Vulnerable Adult Statue gives residents and their families real leverage.  In addition to recovering damages for injuries it is also possible to recover litigation expenses including reasonable attorney’s fees.

[That kind of begs the question: Aren’t attorney fees recoverable in every case and why are they so important?  Unfortunately, attorney fees are usually not recoverable in cases.  In the United States, the loser typically does not have to pay the winner’s fees.]

We handle most of our cases on a contingent basis, so clients don’t really see the bill.  But the “bill” in most nursing home and assisted living facility cases is substantial.  In fully litigated cases it’s not unusual for both sides to invest over $250,000 in attorney time.

The risk of having to pay not only for damages but also attorney fees encourages settlement discussions and, even more important, rethinking policies and procedures to protect residents.

Risk motivates defendants to settle.  If you have a grandparent, parent or spouse who has been mistreated at a nursing home or assisted living facility, give us a call.  Let’s talk about how to hold it responsible.