Friday, June 10, 2016

Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law

Georgia Supreme CourtAdult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court's order that her father's current wife must allow her access to her father.  Williford alleged that her father,  Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition.  She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.

Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy's wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.

In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford's petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.

In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the "equitable remedy" sought by Ms. Williford.  Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia's version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief.  That statute says:

The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.

The court concluded that this section "does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation" with  parents.  "Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a 'pauper,' much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her."

In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter "did not alleged and does not claim on appeal" that the wife prevented her husband "from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford." Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of "general habeas corpus" where a person was allegedly held "incommunicado illegally and against his will." 

This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that "if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator."  

June 10, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What Are Physicians' Responsibilities for Older Patients with Firearms?

Florida State Law Professor (and friend) Marshall Kapp has a new article out, and my recent post "He Died with Guns in His Closet" triggered him to share it with us.  Marshall tackles the challenging topic of "The Physician's Responsibility Concerning Firearms and Older Patients," with thoughtfulness and candor.

Professor Kapp opens with observations and predictions about the potential for Americans to continue to own firearms as they age, even if they have declining cognition.  He writes:

In the general population, the presence of firearms in the home is positively associated with the risk for completed suicide and being the victim of homicide. It is well-documented that “[g]un ownership and availability are common among the elderly”and that the rate of use of guns in suicides and homicides by older Americans is significant. Firearms, along with falls and motor vehicle accidents, cause the most traumatic brain injury deaths in the U.S. for people over age 75.

 

Mental illness has been found to be strongly associated with increased risk of suicide involving firearms. The disproportionate incidence and prevalence of cognitive and emotional disorders such as dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and depression--often presenting themselves simultaneously and exacerbating each other--among older persons has been identified clearly. However, many persons with such disorders do not receive a formal clinical evaluation for those issues. Age-associated decline in health status, in combination with other factors, is a risk factor for dementia.

Professor Kapp examines state laws and the collective role of the medical profession regarding firearms as a public health matter, including specific ideas about what might be an individual doctor's "duty to inquire about or report on access to weapons for a patient who demonstrates cognitive changes," and the potential for any such "duty" to impact patient choices about treatment. For example, he reports:

Under current law, physicians, with the possible exception of those practicing in Florida, have latitude to act according to their own discretion when it comes to questioning their patients about guns in the home in this context. According to a coalition of leading health professional organizations and the ABA, physicians are able to intervene with patients whose access to firearms puts them at risk of injuring themselves or others. Such intervention may entail speaking freely to patients in a nonjudgmental way, giving them safety-related factual information, answering patients' questions, advising them about behaviors that promote health and safety, and documenting these conversations in the patient's medical record (just as the physician would document conversations with their patients regarding other kinds of health-related behaviors).

On free speech implications, he writes:

The courts thus far are split in their responses to First Amendment challenges to compelled medical speech brought by physicians qua physicians in their role as patient fiduciaries or trust agents (as opposed to claims brought by physicians seeking protection in their capacity as ordinary citizens). Nevertheless, there is a strong argument for requiring that state laws compelling particular speech by physicians in their physician role be examined under at least a strict scrutiny standard.

And to further whet your appetite for reading the full article, in his conclusion, Professor Kapp advocates for certain changes in state law, including:

State statutes should authorize physicians to inquire of and about their older patients regarding patient access to firearms in the home and to counsel the patient, family members, and housemates about firearms safety, up to and including recommending that firearms be kept away from the patient. However, the states should not enact legislation that positively requires the physician to make such inquiries and engage in counseling, although states should consider a tort standard of care evolving through the common law in a direction that imposes an affirmative obligation on the physician to inquire and counsel.

The full article appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy.  

June 9, 2016 in Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Health Care Debt and Debt Collectors: "Is This How My Life Will End?"

John Oliver, in his typically over-the-top, but still informative manner, focuses on the industry of debt collection and how it can be especially troublesome for older adults.  Indeed, when I was running an Elder Protection Clinic for Dickinson Law, a significant percentage of our clients were struggling with "old" debts, often connected to health care costs, and were dealing with aggressive attempts to recover what has come to be known as  "zombie debt."  One woman interviewed about $80k in debt arising out of denial for insurance coverage for her elderly husband's hospitalization for breathing problems, describes her fear and frustration after a lifetime of working and saving.  She asks, "Is this how my life is going to end?"

 

 

Our thanks to Karen Miller, Esq., in Florida, for sending this link.  

June 7, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida Health Care Agency Revokes Nursing Home License at CCRC

We've reported earlier, including here and here, about recent financial and management issues at a Tampa, Florida continuing care retirement community that operates under the name of University Village. The latest event is the May 31, 2016 order of an administrative law judge that would uphold the decision of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to  revoke the license for operation of a skilled nursing facility at University Village..  

Many of the concerns appear to focus on the alleged action (or inaction) of an individual, John Bartle, who is described as holding various titles in the company that controls the CCRC's operations. At one point, the Administrative Law Judge made clear his view on Bartle's testimony:

The letter and the email reveal Mr. Bartle’s view that deadlines established by regulatory authorities performing the duties imposed on them for the protection of the public by the Legislature are not significant. This disregard, if not disdain, for the statutes and rules governing nursing home services and the enforcement of them is patent in the letter and e-mail, Mr. Bartle’s dismissive testimony about the shifting relationships of the various entities, his demeanor when testifying, and his evasive manner of answering questions when testifying. For these reasons, Mr. Bartle’s denial of the March 3 letter and much of his uncorroborated testimony are not accepted as credible.

My thanks to Karen Miller, Esq. for sharing this unusual ruling.  

June 7, 2016 in Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

"He Died with Guns in His Closet"

"He Died with Guns in His Closet."  That's the provocative (and effective) title of an upcoming  continuing legal education program  (3 credits) in Pennsylvania.  The half-day Pennsylvania Bar Institute program will be offered live in Pittsburgh on June 8, and both in-person (Mechanicsburg) and by webcast/simulcast on June 16.  The program will address "new regulations for gun trusts that go into effect on July 13, 2016;" acquisition, possession disposition and transportation of firearms; how people become disqualified to interact with firearms; gun trusts; and the National Firearms Act's implications for trust and estate practitioners.

Last fall, I was at a statewide meeting of continuing care community residents in the Southeastern part of the US, and I admit I was startled when residents raised the topic of "what to do about guns" in their CCRCs.  

Here's a link to the CLE details.   My thanks to Pennsylvania practitioner and great estate planning adjunct professor Vicky Trimmer for alerting me both to the changes in the law and this upcoming program.  

June 3, 2016 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Elder Care: A Non-Crisis Approach to Crises?

Recently I was at a dinner party with academics from across the spectrum of my university.  As often happens, a group of us seated together for the meal swapped basic information about what we do in our day jobs.  It was a fun group of art professors, special education specialists, and even an agricultural economist.  We talked art and politics across the board.  I had at first identified myself only as a professor at the law school, but during a lull in the conversation I explained my area was "law and aging" generally and more specifically the work of elder law attorneys.  Ears perked up.  

I had that experience that I suspect doctors have all the time. Everyone at the table had a question or story to tell of their family's recent aging  issue.  And as I listened, I recognized a common theme among these skilled, thoughtful professionals.  I kept hearing that we knew "mom" or "aunt" or "grandpa" was getting older, and we offered help, but the help we offered either wasn't enough or was rejected outright.  And often, the second part of their stories involved a "crisis."  A particularly poignant example was the caring granddaughter who cooked and froze two weeks of meals for her frail, housebound grandmother, only to realize that her grandmother's "little bit of confusion" resulted in her opening all of the 14 days of dinners on the very first day.  It precipitated a diabetic crisis for the grandmother, as well as the loss of the majority of the food.

Over the dinner, I was surprised to find myself talking a lot about what is dementia (and does it differ from Alzheimer's) and whether it can be distinguished from "temporary" conditions that cause short term confusion.  Everyone at the table was searching for answers and admitting they didn't know enough before the crisis event.  And I could completely empathize, because even with some 20 years of being fairly deeply immersed in elder care issues, I am regularly surprised by some new topic or challenge in my own family.

I had good reason to think about the party conversation again while listening to WITF-FM Public Radio's Smart Talk program on June 2.  The program's guests were Dr. Linda Rhodes, the former Secretary of Aging for Pennsylvania, and Joan Krechmer, a geriatric care manager and the executive director for Jewish Family Services, in York, Pennsylvania and the topic was "Caring for Mom, Dad and Kids." Lots of people calling in and writing with very specific questions, and many of the questions were triggered by both crisis events and chronic care issues.  

An example of one question was from a family member who was told the family had "24 hours" to decide about a skilled nursing facility when their loved one was being discharged from the hospital. "There is barely time to do the research" the program guests were talking about.  And that is true. Even though federal law imposes a protocol on hospitals about discharge notices, and even provides a mechanism for informal appeal, which if triggered properly can automatically result in more time, most people simply won't know about that short-term remedy in advance.

The Smart Talk radio program is part of a larger series of events on the topic of family care-giving, including airing of the PBS television documentary on Caring for Mom & Dad and in-person sessions at area locations to talk about advance planning and identify resources in advance of a crisis.   

Linda Rhodes, the former PA Secretary of Aging has written her own book, Caring for Aging Parents: The Essential Guide. 

June 2, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

More on Elder Driving

The latest issue of Experience, the magazine of the Senior Lawyers Division of the ABA is devoted to elder driving. Eight articles are devoted to the issue of driving. The magazine also includes articles on estate planning, technology and ethics. The entire issue is available here. Links to individual articles are also accessible from here.

June 1, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, State Statutes/Regulations, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Plaintiffs' Class Certified in Dispute over LTC Insurance Coverage for Care by "Managed Residential Communities" or "Assisted Living Services Agencies"

As we've reported fairly often on this Blog (see e.g., here, re California litigation), the long-term care insurance (LTCI) industry has been battling disputes on many fronts.  One of the fronts is whether insurers can deny benefits to pay for care provided in settings other than "skilled nursing facilities."  On March 1, 2016, a federal court in Connecticut granted class certification to estates and policy holders who are challenging denial of coverage for stays in "managed residential communities" (MRCs) in Connecticut or to cover services provided through "assisted living services agencies" (ALSAs).  In Estate of Gardner v. Continental Casualty Company, 2016 WL 806823, the court agreed the plaintiffs had satisfied the class certification requirements for "numerosity," commonality, and typicality of issues, as well as establishing grounds to argue "imminence of injury" to support a claim for injunctive relief:

While Plaintiffs do seek monetary relief, it appears to the Court that what they primarily seek is forward-looking relief. Plaintiffs purchased long-term care policies, presumably with the expectation that they would utilize their coverage over a long term. Any adequate remedy would have to ensure that they could obtain coverage for claims prospectively. For that, an injunction is required. Moreover, Plaintiffs leave no ambiguity about the content of the injunction they seek: an end to Defendant's alleged policy of denying claims for assisted-living facilities across the board. This is exactly the type of relief Rule 23(b)(2) was designed to facilitate. Because Plaintiffs' proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 23, certification is proper.

For more on the background of the Connecticut case, see "Connecticut class action accuses insurer of denying assisted-living claims." 

May 26, 2016 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Texas Appellate Case Demonstrates Significance of Contract Terms for Continuing Care Eviction

On April 28, 2016, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed an award of some $145k in damages to an elderly couple for breach of a "Life Care" contract by their residential community.   In Barton Creek Senior Living Center, d/b/a Querencia at Barton Creek v. Howland, the residential community staff attempted to refuse to communicate with the children of a couple, in their 80s, on the reported grounds that "communication with their children was unworkable because of the discord with the children."  The facility, Querencia, reportedly soon "terminated the Life Care Agreement with the Howlands and ordered them to vacate the premises within thirty days." The Howlands did vacate the premises, moving to an assisted living community with a different pricing and service structure; however, they contended they were denied the "benefit of their bargain" with Querencia.  

On appeal, Querencia does not challenge the finding that it failed to comply with the Life Care Agreement, but contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the damages awarded to Howland. Specifically, Querencia argues that the damages cannot be tied to the pre-termination notice being 30 days instead of [the contract's specified notice of]  60 days. It also contends that Howland does not deserve damages for assistive services used after termination that they were already using before termination. Finally, Querencia contends that it properly withheld ten percent of the Howlands' deposit pursuant to their contract.

The appellate court rejected these arguments with a textbook discussion of remedies for breach of contract necessary to protect the non-breaching party's expectation interest:

Although the Howlands employed private care providers while at Querencia, there is evidence that the Howlands' move to The Summit increased their monthly expenses because the monthly rent was higher at The Summit, it provided fewer services than Querencia, and services at The Summit were more expensive.... Howland claimed over a million dollars in damages, Querencia countered that Howland profited from the breach, and the jury awarded Howland $82,500 plus the unrefunded deposit. The evidence in the record supports the jury's exercise of its role as factfinder regarding the damages award. The evidence also supports the jury's award of $62,990 representing the portion of the Howlands' deposit that Querencia did not refund. Querencia asserts that it was entitled to retain ten percent of the Howlands' deposit under the terms of the Life Care Agreement. But the jury found that Querencia breached that agreement, and restitution is a permissible measure of damages for breach of contract.... The jury was empowered to and did decide that Querencia must compensate for its breach by returning the final ten percent of the Howlands' deposit.

The finding of breach appeared to have been predicated on the contract's specified grounds  permitting termination, which included fairly standard provisions such as inability to meet medical needs, nonpayment by the residents, or a resident's breach of "policies and procedures" that create a situation that is "detrimental to the health, safety or quiet enjoyment of the community by other residents or the staff." The court appeared to be persuaded by the argument that Querencia failed to comply with a further contractual provision, mandating parties be given an "opportunity-to-cure" in the event of disputes.  

Despite the affirmance on damages, the appellate court also set aside the trial court's award of $166k in attorney's fees for the plaintiffs, rejecting a "lodestar" argument for the award, and remanded the case for further proceedings on reasonable and necessary fees.

In reading the opinion (and the headnotes from Westlaw on the opinion, which refer to Querencia as a "nursing home"), I'm struck once again by the confusion that "continuing care" contracts, including so-called "life care" contracts, can cause for parties, although usually any landmines tend to affect resident rights, rather than providers.  Thus, I would anticipate that in the future, providers worried about protecting their right to terminate relations with "troublesome" individuals, will attempt to beef up their "policies and procedures," to give clearer rights to refuse to communicate with troublesome family members of residents.  

May 24, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Economics of Fiduciary Litigation (in 2 parts)

I've reached that annual ritual known as "let's clean off my desk because that is more fun than grading exams."  Always a good opportunity to find a few treasures that escaped my closer attention during the academic year.  And along that line, I was intrigued to find the two-part series on "Alternative Litigation Finance," written by Holland and Knight attorneys Robert Barton and Wendy Walker.

Part 1:  The Waiting Game -- The Economics of a Fiduciary Litigation Practice. Here's an excerpt:

What Is Alternative Litigation Finance? The structure of a litigation finance deal can vary significantly depending on the type of case, the company involved, the stage of the case when funding is sought, the amount of money requested, and many other factors. At its core, though, ALF is the advancement of funds to attorneys or clients by a thirdparty company to pay legal fees and costs related to litigation. In general, a litigation funder makes a return on the funds, whether through interest earned over the life of the advance, a multiple of the advanced amount, or a percentage of the recovery paid to the client at the conclusion of the matter. The transaction is typically nonrecourse, meaning the company only recovers to the extent that the client recovers. The funder does not look to the client’s other assets, beyond the settlement or judgment, to satisfy the repayment of the funds. In some circumstances, however, the client may offer additional collateral to secure the amount needed.

Part 2:  The Ethical Do's and Don'ts: Best Practices when Clients Finance Fiduciary Litigation. To whet your appetite:

To provide maximum protection for the client, at the outset of a new matter, an attorney should request a written confidentiality agreement among the funder, the client, and the attorney. The agreement should provide the express recognition that any nonprivileged, but confidential, information that is shared is done so with the intent to maintain its confidential nature. Although not a full guarantee against future disclosure, such an agreement does demonstrate the intention of the parties and has been a persuasive argument to courts evaluating disputed discovery issues.

These articles originally appeared in the ABA's publication, Probate and Property, with the second of the two articles published in the November/December 2015 issue.  (The good news is that by waiting a bit, both of these articles are now available on the web, and not just through the ABA subscription.) 

May 17, 2016 in Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Evict, Reject, Discharge: Are Nursing Homes Following the Rules or Is the Problem Bigger than "Rules"?

My colleague Becky Morgan posted earlier this week on the AP news story on nursing homes' attempts to evict difficult patients.  This week the ABA Journal also linked to the AP story,  plus tied the statistical reports of a nation-wide increase in  complaints about evictions, rejections and  discharges to one man's struggle to return to his California care center following what should have been  short term hospitalization for pneumonia. 

The story of Bruce Anderson is a reminder that a need for high-quality, facility-based "long term " care is not limited to "elderly" individuals.  But it is also a reminder that individuals with serious behavioral issues, not just physical care needs, complicate the picture.  Anderson experienced a severe brain injury at age 55 following a heart attack,  but his younger age, lack of "private pay resources," and  a history of apparently problematic behavior, are all reasons why a "traditional" nursing home may seek to avoid him as a resident.  

The ongoing California litigation over Mr. Anderson and similarly situated residents heightens the need to think critically about whether we're being naive as a nation about "home is best" shifting of funding resources.  Certainly there are many -- and probably too many -- individuals in facilities when they could  be maintained at home if there was more funding to supplement family-based care.  

At the same time, I tend to see this as downplaying the very real needs for high-level, behavioral care for individuals who aren't easily cared for by families or "traditional" nursing homes, much less by hospitals organized around critical care.  It is about more than mere eviction, discharge and rejection statistics.  The 1999 Olmstead decision was a watershed moment in recognizing the need for de-institutionalization of those with disabilities.  But it may have pasted over the real need for quality of assistance and care in any and all settings, and what that means in terms of costs to a nation.   

My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law who took time away from the fun of grading her exams to send us the ABA story.  

May 13, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is Nursing Home Operator Entitled to Bar Plaintiff Firm's Use of Finger-Pointing Ads?

It seems nursing home operators are calling upon some of the same "trade practice" laws they are sometimes accused of violating, in an effort to thwart what the operators see as misleading advertising by personal injury attorneys.  

One of the latest suits has reached the Georgia Supreme court, where the Mississippi-based law firm of McHugh Fuller Group is seeking to overturn a lower court's injunction preventing it from running a statewide ad campaign, including full-page color ads, seeking potential clients who "suspect that a loved one was NEGLECTED or ABUSED" by a nursing home run by PruittHealth, Inc.  From an April 27, 2016  Georgia Courts' summary of parties' arguments before the high court

PruittHealth sued the law firm under the Georgia Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which authorizes a court to issue an injunction (a court order requiring a certain action be halted) against anyone who uses someone’s trade name without permission if there is even a “likelihood” that the use will injure the business reputation of the owner or dilute its trade name or mark. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order against the law group, scheduled a hearing and notified the parties that it intended to consider PruittHealth’s request for a permanent injunction. The trial court issued another order on June 1, 2015, permanently stopping the law group from running ads that used PruittHealth’s trade names, service marks, or other trade styles. The law group filed a motion for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. The law firm is now appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court....

 

The law group argues, among other things, that the court erred in determining the ads violated Georgia Code section 10-1-451(b), which is called Georgia’s “antidilution statute.” That statute says dilution occurs “where the use of the trademark by the subsequent user will lessen the uniqueness of the prior user’s mark with the possible future result that a strong mark may become a weak mark.” The law firm argues that it is not eroding the strength of PruittHealth’s mark, but is only identifying specific nursing homes against which it is accepting cases, and that PruittHealth failed to demonstrate that actual injury occurred as a result of the ads.

This isn't the first time that the McHugh Fuller Law Group has been on the receiving end of a lawsuit by a nursing home company.  In February 2015, Heartland of Portsmouth in Ohio and McHugh Fuller Law Group were in federal court arguing about diversity jurisdiction over Heartland's claim the law firm was using "false and misleading advertising in order to encourage tort litigation" against the nursing home's operations in Ohio.  Similar litigation, seeking injunctive relief, was underway by Genesis Healthcare Corporation against the McHugh Fuller firm in West Virginia in 2007, although it is unclear from my research whether either of those cases reached a final resolutions.  

My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry, Dickinson Law, for pointing me to this ABA Journal post that encouraged my search for more about these cases.

April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Legal Practice/Practice Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Know when to hold 'em, fold 'em . . . and (the tough one for lawyers?), know when to walk away

Southern California attorney and mediator Jill Switzer, who writes columns for Above the Law as "Old Lady Lawyer," uses lyrics from Kenny Rodger's The Gambler as part of her theme in a recent essay.  She asks whether lawyers prepare themselves, not just financially, but emotionally, to retire at the right time.  Suggesting the answer is "probably not," Switzer draws on data from a recent California State Bar survey:

On its website, the State Bar of California recently asked its lawyers “how long do you plan to keep practicing law?” The poll was completely unscientific, as it didn’t tally the results by age, years in practice, or any other criteria whatsoever. However, the result was not surprising, at least to this dinosaur: more than fifty percent of the responding lawyers said they would continue to practice as long as they are able. (Ten percent or so said they were looking to switch careers as soon as possible, approximately twenty percent said that they hoped to take early retirement, and approximately fifteen percent said they’d practice until they turned sixty-five. Note to millennials: the retirement age at which you can start receiving full Social Security benefits is creeping upward.)

For more, see Old Lady Lawyer: Is There a Farewell Victory Lap for Lawyers? 

And speaking of "farewell," did you notice that Above the Law recently terminated the "comments" option for readers of the frequently sharp-tongued blog?  Details here, and I suspect a few readers might view this change as somewhat ironic. 

April 27, 2016 in Discrimination, Ethical Issues, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"It's Always About the Money" - One Man's Work to Change Oversight of Guardianships

Here's is a new podcast of an interview with Rick Black on All Talk Radio (about 15 minutes, starting at the 3:25  minute mark), who has strong words about elder abuse based on his family's experiences with a guardianship in Clark County Nevada, plus his own additional research about guardianship systems in Nevada and beyond.  (You may have to give this time to load, as it is an embedded video file).  

 

 

For more, read the April 4, 2016 Editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, entitled "Elder Abuse." 

 

April 24, 2016 in Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Do We Ask Too Much of Doctors as Advisors on Death?

This semester, I took a poll with  my students in Elder Law, asking their views about right to die issues.  This year, perhaps more than in past years, the poll came out strongly in favor of honoring clear, adequately informed decisions of individuals to end their lives.  Of course, we discussed the many grey areas, and the impact of high profile cases, such as Brittany Maynard, on current thought.  We debated both the question of affirmative actions to die, particularly in states that permit physician assistance, and the potential to assume -- and or even over-assume -- that a completed "living will" is a choice to reject so-called extraordinary life-saving measures.   Just because we are now more likely to support personal choices to die, does not mean we should assume that all accept a nearer end.

Relevant to this discussion  is a Washington Post essay by Boston-based internal medicine and primary care resident Ravi Parikh on When a Doctor and Patient Disagree About Care at the End of Life. He describes his own experiences as he begins his career:

Not long ago, a frail-looking elderly patient appeared at my cardiac health clinic with a file full of hospitalizations stemming from a heart attack years before. He’d had three coronary stents put in, had had heart bypass surgery and was unable to walk for more than a block due to chest pain. I saw that a previous doctor had written “DNR” — do not resuscitate — in his chart, so I asked him to confirm his wishes.

 

No, he said, to my surprise. He actually wanted to be a “full code” — meaning that chest compressions, shocks and intubation were to be used if necessary to keep him alive.

 

I was taken aback....

This experience pushed him to rethink his approach to the topic, which in turn led him to The Conversation Project website.  His exploration concludes with the thought that "Once we listen enough to learn, maybe those 'goals of care' discussions will start focusing on the goals of the patient, not the doctor."

Our thanks to George Washington Law's Naomi Cahn for sending this piece; she and frequent writing colleague Amy Ziettlow have a thematically related piece for a recent University of Illinois  symposium on "Law, Religion and the Family Unit After Hobby Lobby: A Tribute to Professor Harry Krause." 

April 22, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Ethical Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The "Unbefriended" Need Trustworthy Representatives, including Rep Payees

Someone asked me recently about "alternatives" for law students interested in helping older persons or disabled adults.   I said, in essence, "figure out how to start and operate a cost-effective, soundly-managed, and reliable, nonprofit rep-payee organization in your community."  (And understand that you won't make a fortune, but you can make a good living with a well-run nonprofit!)   

Coinciding with my off-the-cuff advice is a white paper recently released by Justice in Aging, with the assistance of funding through the Borchard Center Foundation on Law & Aging.

In "Ways to Meet the Growing Need for Representative Payees," Justice in Aging recommends that the Social Security System partner with organizations, including attorney organizations, to establish a "sustainable program to help recruit representative payees who are reliable and suitable to perform all of the required duties" of a rep-payee for those receiving federal program benefits but who often are unable to manage the money soundly. In some instances they may have no easy access to reliable family or friends.  The "unbefriended," who, in turn, may be vulnerable to those with bad intentions:

Aging demographics and the predicted increase in cognitive deficits and other chronic conditions are expected to create a dramatic need for representative payees. For many of these seniors, family members and friends may be unavailable to serve in this capacity. SSA should think broadly about the groups of people eligible to serve as payees and then create standards for appointment, require a more in-depth level of training, and increased accountability.

Justice in Aging closes by urging that SSA's "recruitment efforts should be geared towards eligible individuals with legal experience as well as other fields with relevant backgrounds, such as social workers and religious community leaders."

April 21, 2016 in Consumer Information, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 15, 2016

What's the Connection Between "Living Wills" for Banks vs Humans?

Lately, I've been hearing and seeing the phrase "living wills" in mainstream news sources such as the New York Times, but at first the context was confusing to me because the media were speaking and writing about Big Banks, not humans. So, how did it come about that following the 2008 financial crisis, regulators started requiring large financial institutions to have "living wills?"

The Wall Street Journal explains in What You Need to Know About Living Wills [in the context of Big Banks]:

A living will is a document from a financial firm that describes how it would go through bankruptcy without causing a broader economic panic or needing a bailout from taxpayers. The largest U.S. banks have filed several versions of them since the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, which ​required living wills from financial firms ​that were judged to pose a potential risk to the broader economy. The documents are also known as resolution plans. “Resolution” is regulatory parlance for dealing with a failing financial firm.  Living wills are separate from other regulatory requirements, such as annual “stress tests” that measure whether could banks survive a severe recession.

I've not yet determined who first came up with "living wills" to describe what Dodd-Frank, at 12 U.S.C. Section 5361(d), refers to as "resolution plans." Without accurate, full disclosure, addressing all aspects of the financial institution's operations, such plans -- by any name -- seem unlikely to achieve the goal of greater market stability.  As another WSJ writer points out, the utility of Big Banks' living wills comes if not just regulators, but the Bank executives, are paying attention:

The point of the living wills, like the stress tests, is to sit banks down and make them comb through their businesses in excruciating detail, with a focus on grim aspects like liquidity crunches and operational risks in bankruptcy. A useful result of the living wills is that, if they're done correctly, they give regulators a good overall picture of how a bank works, how money flows between its parts, what its pressure points are, and how it responds to crisis. But a much more important result is that, if they're done correctly, they give bankers themselves that same overall picture: They force a bank's executives and directors to understand the workings of the bank in a detailed and comprehensive way. And if they're done incorrectly, that's useful too: They let the regulators and bankers know what they don't know.   

The full article on this point is titled, with nice irony, Living Wills Make Banks Think About Death.  There, a least, is one similarity in living wills for humans and banks.  

April 15, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Does the Statutory Definition of "Elder Abuse" Matter?

In April 2016, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Al Franken (D-MN), introduced Senate Bill 2747 in the United States Senate.  Carrying the title of "Elder Protection and Abuse Prevention Act," one provision of the bill would amend existing federal law to redefine "abuse," as that phrase is used in the Older Americans Act.  The new definition would read:

The term "abuse" means the knowing infliction of physical or psychological harm or the knowing deprivation of goods or services that are necessary to meet essential needs or to avoid physical or psychological harm.

The existing language, defining abuse, provides: 

The term “abuse” means the willful--
(A) infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish; or
(B) deprivation by a person, including a caregiver, of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.
 
Is the proposed change mere semantics? 
 
A quick search reveals that the new federal language is identical to language contained in at least one state's statute, Rhode Island's Section 42-9.2-2, used to define the scope of administrative authority for the state's Elder Justice Prosecution Unit.  One of the sponsors of the new bill is from Rhode Island.  
 
However, Rhode Island's criminal statutes do not provide an exact match.  Rhode Island law does provide that it is a crime for any person "primarily responsible for the care of an adult with severe impairments" to "willfully an knowingly abuse, neglect or exploit that adult," and it defines "abuse" as "subjection of an adult with a severe impairment to willful infliction of physical pain [or] willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain the physical or mental health of the person, or unreasonable confinement."  But, by removing any age restriction but narrowing the crime to victims with "severe impairments," there is room for argument about application of that statute to all elderly victims, or those with "only" early stages of physical or mental impairment.  
 
So, what is the reasoning behind the proposed change of the federal definition of "abuse?" Abuse of an elder person is not a "federal" crime.  Certainly it would be useful to have the definition match any funding authorization, and  perhaps that is a reason, as the new language mirrors the definition of abuse contained in the Social Security Act's provision for block grants to states for social services and elder justice initiatives, at 42 U.S.C. Section 1397j(1).

April 12, 2016 in Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 11, 2016

When Remittiturs in Nursing Home Awards Trigger Inquiry into Campaign Finances for Judges...

I think it is safe to say that in recent years, juries have not been shy about awarding substantial damages in trials involving claims of negligent care, even -- or perhaps especially -- when the resident is very old.  Lately, several of our Elder Law Prof Blog posts have focused on nursing home providers' efforts to avoid jury trials through the use of pre-dispute, binding arbitration clauses in admission agreements.  See e.g. here and here.  However, there's another way in which litigation of nursing home care claims have triggered collateral legal disputes, and this time it is for the judicial system itself.  

In March 2016, former Arkansas state court judge Mike Maggio, age 54, was hit with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, following his plea of guilty to federal charges for taking a bribe to reduce a verdict in a nursing home negligence case.  Maggio was alleged to have reduced a jury verdict in a nursing home case from $5.2 million to $1 million, after the owner of the facility reportedly made multiple campaign contributions to "PACs that were to funnel the money to Maggio for a planned race" for the state's Court of Appeals.  

In issuing the sentence, United State District Judge Brian Miller emphasized that while he had earlier rejected the prosecution's argument that any sentence should be guided by the multi-million dollar size of the remittitur, the maximum sentence was still warranted because "corruption in the judicial system especially erodes public trust in the system," noting "a judge is the system."  Details of the investigation -- as well as on-going litigation -- are provided in the Arkansas Times' Arkansas Blog.  

By comparison, in West Virginia, news media questioned a business transaction and contributions to a judge's re-election campaign, asking whether they affected the decision of the State Supreme court justice when she wrote the lead opinion in an appellate decision that reduced a 2011 jury verdict in nursing home negligence case from $90.5 million to $36.6 million.  The justice denied any improper influence or relationship with defense-side parties; following an investigation, the West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission concluded the justice had no knowledge of the transactions in question, and it dismissed the ethics complaint in June 2015. 

The potential for campaign contributions to influence judicial election campaigns has long been one source of criticism of elections for judges.

April 11, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 8, 2016

DOL Guidance Available for Families on Wage Payments to Home Care Workers

U.S. Department of Labor has a new guide book, "Paying Minimum Wage and Overtime to Home Care Workers," to assist families in understanding updated rules for payment of home care workers. These rules became fully effective on January 1, 2016.

The goal of the recently finalized  "Home Care Final Rule" is to "make sure that home care workers have the same basic wage protections as most U.S. workers, including those who perform the same jobs in nursing homes and group homes."   The rule applies "if you hire the worker directly, and no agency or other organization is involved," but may also apply if you hired the worker through an agency.  

Employers must keep certain basic records for home care workers, and these records will be key to determining proper payment, especially for overtime:

1. Full name;

2. Social security number;

3. Home address;

4. Hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek;

5. Total cash wages paid each week to the employee by employer, including any overtime pay; and

6. Any weekly amounts claimed by the employer as part of wages for housing or food provided to the employee/.

The guide explains special rules that apply if the paid care provider is a family member or  if the paid worker is "living in."

In addition, the guideline explains the "narrow" exemption from minimum wage and overtime rules that applies for home care workers who provide only "companionship services."  The key here is that the the worker can be spending no more than 20% of his or her working time on tasks such as assisting with personal care (bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and the worker is not performing any medically related tasks.  

April 8, 2016 in Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)