Nursing Home Lawsuit Back on After Appellate Ruling

The civil justice is never entirely predictable. Since each case is analyzed on its own merits and involve decisions by different judges and juries, it is impossible to say with specificity exactly how a certain action will end up. At times this leads to a legal roller coaster ride where cases have very big ups and downs. Our Illinois nursing home attorneys know, for example, that a case may even be completely thrown out of court only to come back in after changes are made or an appeal is granted. That appears to be what happened in a high-profile nursing home neglect case out of California.

New Case
According to the SF Gate, the lawsuit involved the owner of over 16 facilities over claims that care at those homes fell below the state’s staffing standards. The civil action was brought by a group of patients under claims that staffing levels were below the required amount at each of those homes at least 35% of the time. The suit seeks financial recovery for each violation of the law, but, more importantly, wants changes to be mandated to ensure patients receive the staffing level to which they are entitled.

At first the lawsuit was thrown out of court. However, a recent unanimous state appeals court ruling disagreed and said that the suit could proceed.

The Legal Issue
The main issue in the nursing home neglect case involves the standing of the parties to bring suit alleging violation of the state staffing standards. In their defense the long-term care facility owner alleged that only state regulators had the power to enforce those staffing standards–not private parties via a civil lawsuit. The lowest court agreed with that argument. The residents appealed.

Last week the appellate court issued an opinion in the case, deciding unanimously that the residents did in fact have the right to force compliance with the staffing requirements. In a logical opinion, the court wrote that residents can “bring actions themselves to remedy violations of their rights” This seems like a common sense notion, but all manner of legal maneuvers are often tried by these facilities in order to avoid accountability for their lack of providing proper care.

Each Illinois nursing home lawyer at our firm appreciates the importance of allowing residents to enforce their own rights. That is because many states have a somewhat mixed record of enforcing laws like this. If a statute is passed requiring improved care standards, it is of no value if the law is ignored and not enforced. Civil lawsuits offer a common-sense and fair way of ensuring those laws are followed and that residents are protected as intended by the legislature.

Expectedly, most state agencies explain that they do not have the necessary funding to meet the high demands of enforcement of these laws. In addition, there are often problem with staff training, with an inability to effectively identify caregiving problems and violations of safety standards. Unfortunately, Illinois has had similar concerns in recent years over proper staffing levels and enforcement of current rules.

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