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Federal Court Finds That Nursing Home Lawsuit Funds Belong to Victim’s Family

The American Association of Justice recently discussed a new ruling that may bring certainty to a previously unsettled area of nursing home law. The Eleventh Circuit, a federal appellate court, ruled that proceeds of wrongful death lawsuits following nursing home deaths belong to the surviving children, not Medicare. This holding reverses a lower court decision that found otherwise.

Specifically, with this decision the court rejected claims by Medicare (managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services), that it was entitled to first and full reimbursements for payment it had made following settlements after negligent nursing home deaths. Of course, that meant that the surviving family members of the nursing home victim would be treated as second-in-line, to receive only whatever remained following the initial payment of the settlement funds to Medicare.

Put more succinctly, the court of appeals judge in this case explained that the real issue was simple: “whose property is the settlement?”

Judge James Hill’s answer: the victim’s family.

He then elaborated by declaring that there was an important distinction between claims of the estate (belonging to the deceased family member) and claims of the survivor (belonging to the family members themselves). In other words, in many instances the actual rights vindicated in these nursing home lawsuits center around “loss of consortium and companionship.” These are losses claimed directly by survivors for their own suffering, not for losses on behalf of their deceased relative.

The judge summed up the ruling by noting, “A child’s loss of parental companionship claim is a property right belonging to the child. Not the secretary of HHS.”

Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti support all common sense legal rulings that protect the rights of family members who lose loved ones due to nursing home abuse and neglect. It is important to appropriately consider the personal trauma, suffering, and heartache that surviving victims endure following these tragedies. Our nursing home lawyers work every day to honor those sacrifices and bring justice to the suffering.