Contrary to popular understanding, winning a lawsuit-including those involving nursing home neglect-is just half of the battle. When a judge or jury makes a decision which allocates certain money to the plaintiff in a case, the ruling itself does not guarantee that the plaintiff will receive that money. Instead, the ruling often only means the end to the first half of a prolonged legal battle. In the second half, both sides engage in more legal maneuverings to see if that award will actually makes its way to the victim.
Our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers know that when defendants try to avoid paying they use two general tactics: claim that they do not have enough assets or claim that someone else should actually pay the judgment. Many community members are rightly indignant when they read that large nursing home conglomerates claim that they do not have the resources to pay an award. However, part of the reason is that the complex legal structuring of many of these businesses is conducted specifically so that large awards can be guarded against. While a company may have control over certain resources which could be used to pay damage awards, they usually have planning in place which makes those resources untouchable to plaintiffs.
A nursing home abuse case discussed last week in Tampa Bay News offers a helpful real-world example of the difficulty in collecting an award after a judgment has been rendered. The story notes that in today’s complex world, with private investment firms weaving in and out of ownership position of these facilities, it is often difficult to tell who is actually making money from the business at any given point in time. Of course, this presents a challenge to legal plaintiffs, because filing a lawsuit requires specific delineation of named plaintiffs. Often it is a challenge to figure out who the named plaintiffs should be. In fact, according to the TB News article, even federal regulators often have difficulty pinning down owners of these facilities at times.
The article shares the story of a 92-year old resident who died after negligent care led to her falling down a stairwell in a nursing home. She suffered from dementia and was strapped to her wheelchair. She went through a door that was left open as employees went to smoke and tumbled down the stairs. She died shortly after at a hospital after breaking her neck.
The family filed a nursing home neglect lawsuit against the company that operated the home at the time. The case ultimately ended in a $200 million jury award. A big reason for the judgment was the fact that the nursing home chain did not even have a lawyer show up at the trial. Why? Because there was immense confusion about who actually owned the facility. The named defendant-company no longer existed. A second company apparently owned the facility’s income stream and a third owned its liabilities.
Now a battle is brewing between those involved which includes tracking money between the various companies (including large organization like GE Capital). As the article quips: “A cakewalk verdict is one thing. Collection is another.” It will be interested to see how this case unfolds in the coming months.
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