Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Philadelphia to Host the 27th Annual National Adult Protective Service Assoc Conference, August 29-31
Recently I received an email reminder from ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall that Pennsylvania is hosting this year’s National Adult Protective Service Association (NAPSA) Conference from August 29 through 31 at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia. The conference will feature many of the nation’s leading adult protective services professionals who will share their ideas, expertise and creative approaches, with workshop sessions for brainstorming application of new ideas. More details, including information about CLE credits, are available here. Immediately following the NAPSA conference, in the same Philadelphia location, is the 7th Annual Summit on Elder Financial Exploitation, on September 1.
These national meetings come at a time when elder abuse and elder justice have been the subject of growing attention in Pennsylvania, as well as around the nation. It seems fitting that Philadelphia is hosting the national meeting, as it follows a months-long Task Force analysis of the role of Pennsylvania court systems in helping to protect at-risk seniors or other vulnerable adults.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Last weekend, the Arizona Republic newspaper carried a Question and Answer column that caught my eye. The question began:
My grandmother lives in Scottsdale, and my wife and I live in Chicago. We only visit her two or three times a year. Although we thought my grandmother was still able to manage her financial affairs, she recently called us to say that she was being evicted from her Scottsdale home for nonpayment of HOA dues. My grandmother owns her $450,000 hoe free and clear....
HOA dues only totaled $700 originally. After the late charges, interest, and legal fees, however, there was almost $8,000 owed at the foreclosure sale two weeks ago.
How often do crises involving aging loved ones begin with the words "I thought she was doing well living alone until...?" Here the concerned grandson jumped into action and the consumer advisor suggested a range of options, including working with the "investor" to resolve the ownership and equity issues. For more you can read Grandmother Loses Home to HOA Fees on the PressReader service for the Arizona Republic, August 14, 2016.
Thursday, July 28, 2016
This week my in-basket sported the latest copy of the Family Law Quarterly and it is a strong lineup of symposium authors writing on a range of issues connected to late-in-life marital woes. The articles in the Spring 2016 issue include:
- The Challenging Phenomenon of Gray Divorces, by Paula G. Kirby & Laura S. Leopardi
- Representing the Elderly Client or the Client with Diminished Capacity, by Robert B. Fleming
- The Battle for the Biggest Assets: Dissolution of the Military Marriage and Postdivorce Considerations for Aging Clients, by Brentley Tanner
- Residence Roulette in the Jurisdictional Jungle: Where to Divide the Military Pension, by Mark E. Sullivan
- Family Support, Garnishment and Military Retired Pay, also by Mark E. Sullivan
- Premarital Agreements for Seniors, by Peter M. Walzer & Jennifer M. Riemer, and
- Financial Abuse of the Dependent Elder: A Lawyer's Ethical Obligations, by Jeanne M. Hannah
In my review of the articles, I would have liked to see more discussion of the potential expectations of the couple about payment of their respective long-term care costs, especially as a party's carefully signed premarital agreement may prove to be irrelevant to the state's analysis of eligibility for Medicaid to cover long-term care. In most states, authorities insist on counting assets of both halves of the couple, without regard to any premarital agreement. This is where "elder law" attorneys can be of help to traditional "family law" attorneys in planning. Compare this Elder Law Answers' discussion of "Five Myths About Medicaid's Long-Term Care Coverage."
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
I wanted to make sure you didn't miss these developments.
First, Colorado voters in November may see a ballot initiative on physician-aided dying. Proponents are collecting signatures according to an article in the Denver Post, Right-to-die initiative headed for Colorado’s November ballot. It's not a slam-dunk however. The article notes that there is opposition to the proponents efforts to place the initiative on the ballot. Proposed legislation failed previously. Stay tuned.
Second, in case you missed it, on June 30, 2016, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued its ruling in Morris v. Brandenburg, a physician-aided dying case that has been making its way through the appeals process. The court held "we decline to hold that there is an absolute and fundamental constitutional right to a physician’s aid in dying and conclude that Section 30-2-4 is not unconstitutional on its face or as applied to Petitioners in this case." The court relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Washington v. Glucksberg and found no specific reasons under the NM Constitution to depart from that precedent since physician-aided dying is not a fundamental right. Here's an excerpt from the opinion:
New Mexico, like the rest of the nation, has historically sought to deter suicides and to punish those who assist with suicide, with limited exceptions in the HCDA and the Pain Relief Act. However, these exceptions occurred as a result of debates in the legislative and executive branches of government, and only because of carefully drafted definitions and safeguards, which incidentally are consistent with the safeguards urged by Petitioners. Numerous examples of such definitions and safeguards exist in the UHCDA. In addition to those previously identified in paragraph 35 of this opinion, the following reflect other safeguards relevant to our analysis... These and other provisions of the UHCDA further many of the government interests recognized by the Glucksberg Court as unquestionably legitimate, and which made Washington’s ban on physician aid in dying reasonably related to their promotion and protection…Indeed, if such exceptions and carve-outs to the historical national public policy of deterring suicide properly exist, they are certainly borne of the legislature and not the judiciary.
A summary of the opinion appeared in the July 13, 2016 eBulletin (full disclosure-I'm one of the editors).
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Special and Supplemental Needs Trust To Be Highlighted At July 21-22 Elder Law Institute in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania each summer, one of the "must attend" events for elder law attorneys is the annual 2-day Elder Law Institute sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. This year the program, in its 19th year, will take place on July 21-22. It's as much a brainstorming and strategic-thinking opportunity as it is a continuing legal education event. Every year a guest speaker highlights a "hot topic," and this year that speaker is Howard Krooks, CELA, CAP from Boca Raton, Florida. He will offer four sessions exploring Special Needs Trusts (SNTs), including an overview, drafting tips, funding rules and administration, including distributions and terminations.
Two of the most popular parts of the Institute occur at the beginning and the end, with Elder Law gurus Mariel Hazen and Rob Clofine kicking it off with their "Year in Review," covering the latest in cases, rule changes and pending developments on both a federal and state level. The solid informational bookend that closes the Institute is a candid Q & A session with officials from the Department of Human Services on how they look at legal issues affected by state Medicaid rules -- and this year that session is aptly titled "Dancing with the DHS Stars."
I admit I have missed this program -- but only twice -- and last year I felt the absence keenly, as I never quite felt "caught up" on the latest issues. So I'll be there, taking notes and even hosting a couple of sessions myself, one on the latest trends in senior housing including CCRCs, and a fun one with Dennis Pappas (and star "actor" Stan Vasiliadis) on ethics questions.
Here is a link to pricing and registration information. Just two weeks away!
July 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Legal Practice/Practice Management, Medicaid, Medicare, Programs/CLEs, Property Management, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Veterans | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
On June 15, I logged into the National Consumer Law Center's webinar on Financial Frauds and Scams Against Elders. It was very good. Both David Kirkman, who is with the Consumer Protection Division for North Carolina Department of Justice, and Naomi Karp, who is with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had the latest information on scamming trends, enforcement issues, and best practices to avoid financial exploitation. Here were some of the "take away" messages I heard:
- "Age 78" -- why might that be important? Apparently many of the organized scammers, such as the off-shore sweepstakes and lottery scams, know that by the time the average consumer reaches the age 78, there a significant chance that the consumer will have cognitive changes that make him or her more susceptible to the scammer's "pitch." As David explained, based on 5 years of enforcement data from North Carolina, "mild cognitive impairment" creates the "happy hunting ground" for the scammer.
- "I make 'em feel like they are Somebody again." That's how one scammer explained and rationalized his approach to older adults. By offering them that chance to make "the deal," to invest in theoretically profitable ventures, to be engaged in important financial transactions, he's making them feel important once again. That "reaction" by the older consumer also complicates efforts to terminate the scamming relationship. David played a brief excerpt of an interview with an older woman, who once confronted with the reality of a so-called Jamaican sweepstakes lottery, seemed to make a firm promise "not to send any more money." Yet, three days later, she sent off another $800, and lost a total of some $92k to the scammers in two years.
- "Psychological reactives." That's what David described as a phenomenon that can occur where the victim of the scam continues to play into the scam because the scammer is offering the victim praise and validation, while a family member or law enforcement official trying to dissuade the victim from continuing with the scam makes him or her feel "at fault" or "foolish." An indirect, oblique approach may be necessary to help the victim understand. One strategy to offset the unhelpful psychological reaction was to show the victim how he or she may help others to avoid serious financial losses.
- "Financial Institutions are increasingly part of the solution." According to Naomi, about half of all states now mandate reporting of suspected financial abuse, either by making banks and credit unions mandatory reporters or by making "all individuals" who suspect such fraud mandatory reporters. Both David and Naomi said they are starting to see real results from mandatory reporters who have helped to thwart fraudsters and thereby have prevented additional losses.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several publications that offer educational materials to targeted audiences about financial abuse. One example was the CFPB's 44-page manual for assisted living and nursing facilities, titled "Protecting Residents from Financial Exploitation."
June 21, 2016 in Books, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, June 17, 2016
The ABA's Bifocal publication includes a new resource guide designed to help lawyers identify and help to implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianships.
The "PRACTICAL Tool," with the first word intended to serve as an acronym for nine steps that a lawyer can use to identify legal and practical approaches, includes:
- Presume guardianship is not needed
- clearly identify the Reasons for concern;
- Ask if a triggering concern may be temporary;
- determining whether the concerns can be addressed by Community resources;
- ask if the person already has a Team to help make decisions;
- Identify the person's abilities;
- screen for potential Challenges;
- Appoint a legal support consistent with the person's values; and
- Limit any necessary guardianship petition.
For more, read Resource for Lawyers Targets Options Less Restrictive than Guardianship, Bifocal, the Journal of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, Volume 37, Issue 5.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
In a recent McKnight's News column, Registered Nurse Pam McKnally wrote an interesting and candid account of "What It's Like to Be a Nurse Whistleblower." Her experiences with retaliation -- indeed bullying-- after she complied with laws requiring to her report observations of improper use of narcotics in the workplace led her and others to advocate for changes in the law.
In April 2016, in response to the experiences of McKnally and others, Nebraska enacted changes to state law, prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers and mandating confidentiality for the identities of anyone making reports of violations by "credentialed" health care providers. Nebraska Legislative Bill 750, amending Nebraska's law that governs a broad range of health care providers, specifies:
An individual or a business credentialed pursuant to the Uniform Credentialing Act shall not discriminate or retaliate against any person who has initiated or participated in the making of a report under the act to the department of [health and human services]. Such person may maintain an action for any type of relief, including injunctive and declaratory relief, permitted by law.
Further, the law now provides that "The identity of any person making such a report [of suspected violations] or providing information leading to the making of a report shall be confidential" and further, "The identify of any person making a report, providing information leading to the making of a report, or otherwise providing information to the department, a board, or the Attorney General included in such reports, complaints or investigational records shall be confidential whether or not the record of the investigation becomes a public record."
Whether the changes to Nebraska law, especially in the absence of a specific statutory sanction for retaliation or breach of confidentiality, will be effective to address the backlash experienced by McNally will bear monitoring. She cautions:
I resigned, as my work life was intolerable, and it was clear that I was about to get fired. The EOC investigated my claims. The costs in employee hours and attorney fees, plus fines for violations can be astronomical. Had the situation been handled differently by the Human Resource department, the outcome may have been much different.
It is time for employers to stop blaming and discrediting professionals who simply follow the law and advocate for themselves and their patients....
When nurses are happy they work hard. They are loyal and seek out constructive ways to help their organization deal with conflict. In long-term care, Medicare and Medicaid cuts mean money needs to be saved now more than ever. Keeping a business viable includes mitigating the need for attorneys and dealing with nurse turnover.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
In Florida, the number of verified cases of elder abuse and neglect has climbed 74 percent since 2011, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. In 2015, the statewide total was 2,525.
More than 800 people have been charged with elder abuse and neglect in Florida in the past five years, according to the Office of State Courts Administrator. More than 370 have been convicted or sentenced.
The story also offers data on a nationwide basis and discusses the difficulties in prosecuting elder abuse cases, such as the victim's close ties to the perpetrator or cognition issues of the victim
The accompanying sidebar provides statistics, Elder Abuse in Florida by the Numbers for the past 5 years, broken down by verified cases of elder abuse or neglect and criminal elder abuse or neglect.
Friday, June 10, 2016
Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable "Right of Access" is Created by Filial Support Law
Adult 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
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)
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
A recent New York Times article sheds light on a frequent topic I've encountered in my own research on the convergence of elder law, contract law, and nonprofit organizations law: when will a nonprofit nursing home or similar senior living operation be "allowed" to convert or sell-off to a for-profit operation? And what if the "real" plan is to convert to an entirely new type of for-profit operation?
The potential for conversion appears to be the heart of a dispute over two nonprofit nursing homes in Manhattan, where State and City authorities are seeking to prevent their purchase by a for-profit company known as Allure Group. From the New York Times:
Citing misrepresentations and broken promises, the New York State attorney general’s office is seeking to prevent the purchase of two nursing centers by a company that was involved in transactions that put a Manhattan nursing home in the hands of luxury condominium developers....
“Allure made clear and repeated promises to continue the operation of two nursing homes for the benefit of a vulnerable population — promises that proved to be false,” said Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the attorney general, referring to Rivington House and a nursing home bought by Allure in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, which were closed within a year of a court petition’s being filed. “Until we conclude our investigation, we will object to Allure buying additional nursing homes.”
In New York, any nonprofit seeking to sell its assets must petition a state court for approval; the attorney general reviews all such requests and can object if there are grounds to do so. The court has the final say....
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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.
Friday, May 27, 2016
Robert A. Mead, with many years of experience as a law librarian at the University of Kansas, the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Supreme Court, and now serving as the Deputy Chief Public Defender for New Mexico, recently offered his take on claims made by family members and third-parties under state "filial responsibility" laws. His article, "Getting Stuck with the Bill? Filial Responsibility Statutes, Long-Term Care, Medicaid, and Demographic Pressure," appears in the Elder Law Advisory published by Westlaw in May 2016 (and apparently available by subscription only). He tracks the demographics of aging in the U.S. and surveys cases from Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota. Based on research, Rob predicts:
The doubling of the number of elders in society will require a substantial increase in Medicare and Medicaid funding especially if a significant percentage of them are indigent in their last years. Without this increase, filial responsibility statutes and Medicaid estate recovery will likely be used by states to address shortfalls in Medicaid funding. . . . Even without state authorities using filial responsibility statutes to seek Medicaid reimbursement, they will continue to be raised in related contexts. When siblings spar over the medical debts incurred by their deceased statutes and the effect of these debts on the probating of estates, filial responsibility becomes a complicating factor such as in Eori, Pittas, and Linderkamp cases. More insidiously, long-term care facilities are beginning to use filial support statutes to seek reimbursement for debts without waiting for resolution of whether the elder was eligible for Medicaid, as in Randall and Pittas. In some situations it will be financially advantageous for facilities to litigate against heirs rather than to settle for lower Medicaid rates. As the case law continues to develop and the demographic crisis grows, look for these novel uses of filial responsibility statutes to continue and become mainstream. It is incumbent upon lawyers representing clients in states with such statutes to plan and draft accordingly.
It is fun for me to see that Rob Mead, a former student from my own days at the University of New Mexico School of Law, has, entirely independent of my influence, kept his own eye on law and aging policy issues.
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."
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
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.
Monday, May 23, 2016
California Supreme Court Clarifies Parties Potentially Liable for "Neglect" Under State's Elder Abuse Law
I think it is safe to say that California has one of the most significant -- and for some, controversial -- "elder protection" laws in the U.S. For example, while all states permit state authorities to investigate and intervene in instances of elder abuse, California's statute recognizes a victim's private right of action for damages, arising from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse of an elderly or dependent adult. There are certain proof requirements and limitations on the damages that can be awarded under California's Elder Abuse Act, but, where the plaintiff shows clear and convincing evidence of recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice, the prevailing party can also obtain "heightened remedies," including "reasonable attorneys fees" and costs. At the same time, the history of the California law also reflects a legislative tension between a determination to address elder abuse and concern about the potential impact of the broader remedy in so-called traditional "medical malpractice" claims. This tension plays out in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the long-running case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group Inc. In the unanimous decision published May 19. 2016, the court helpfully summarizes its own holding:
We granted review to determine whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15600 et seq.; the Elder Abuse Act or Act) applies when a health care provider -- delivering care on an outpatient basis -- failed to refer an elder patient to a specialist. What we conclude is that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient.
The court further explains, "It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult's relationship with the defendant -- not the defendant's professional standing -- that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect. Because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, we find that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act."
The California Supreme Court concluded that the Winn plaintiffs cannot bring a claim for statutory "elder neglect" arising out of allegations that treating physicians failed for two years to refer an 83 year-old woman to a vascular specialist. The suit dates back to 2007-2009, with the patient alleged to have died from complications associated with chronic ulcers of her lower extremities. The unanimous ruling reverses the California Court of Appeals' 2 to 1 ruling in favor of the statutory claim, issued in May 2013.
This ruling does seem to leave nursing homes and similar "custodial" care providers potentially subject to the enhanced remedies of California's Elder Abuse Act.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
The latest issue of Biofocal from the American Bar Association Commission on Law & Aging is out, and the cover story is an article by Erica Wood on Evaluating the Capacity to Drive. Ms. Wood explores the question of what is the needed capacity to drive, and notes the skills one needs to be a safe driver.
[E]valuating capacity to drive is of course different from evaluating capacity to make decisions or execute legal transactions. First, driving involves a mix of mental, physical, and sensory abilities. Second, driving has serious risk not only for oneself but also for others as well. And third, the determination of capacity to drive initially rests not with a judge but with the commissioner of the state department of motor vehicles—although judges may well be involved in decisions about drivers licenses, as described in the “View from the Bench” by Judge Lyle. While state laws vary, the Uniform Vehicle Code provides that a license may be denied if the state commissioner finds that a person “by reason of physical or mental disability would not be able to operate a motor vehicle with safety upon the highways” (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances).
Using the ABA/APA handbook for psychologists "general capacity evaluation framework," Ms. Wood breaks down the assessment elements for capacity to drive: the legal element, the functional component, diagnosis, values, mental health assessment, risk assessment, and clinical judgment that is needed in order "to integrate all of the evidence from the previous steps on supports, conditions, risks, abilities and limitations." The article underscores the need to examine the driver's values, consider emotional factors such as hallucinations and whether the person has capacity with support. Capacity with support is explained as "supports and accommodations that might enhance ability."
In the driving context, this might mean a change of eyeglasses, a higher seat or pillow, a revolving seat, or pedal modifications. With such supports, a functional assessment will test for visual acuity; flexibility to look behind and check blind spots on the road; and strength for control of the steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, and clutch. An assessment also will test the driver’s knowledge about driving rules and what to do in emergency or unexpected situations.
A pdf of the article is available here.
Monday, May 9, 2016
The May 2016 issue of the South Carolina Bar Journal, SC Lawyer contains the article, Quick and Dirty Tips to Prevent Power of Attorney Abuse. The author offers several tips, starting with meeting with the client alone, determine if the client has capacity to sign the DPOA, ascertain the client's goals and expectations, "name an honest, trustworthy and trusted agent" (the author suggests the attorney "[google the agent and check your local court judgment index"); consider co-agents; use a springing POA; include an accounting provision to require the agent "to account in some fashion to a family member(s) or other trusted individual. It can be as formal or as informal as the principal desires. In that way there is another person informed about the principal’s financial situation" and even using a "cooling off" period for the client to think further before signing the DPOA.
The article also covers actions when the agent misuses the DPOA. The article concludes
There is no easy answer to the problem of elder financial abuse. There is no silver bullet. Elder financial abuse is a problem that is only going to get worse. We as attorneys can’t prevent all financial abuse, but we need to be aware of, and adopt, measures that reduce the risk of durable power of attorney abuse. The threat can never be eliminated, but with communication and education, it can be minimized.
Thanks to the article's author, Michael J. Polk, for sending me the link to the article.
May 9, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
JAMA's Journal of Internal Medicine ran an article in the April issue, The Challenge of New Legislation on Physician-Assisted Death . From the legal profession, we know how these laws work. But from the medical profession, according to the article, doctors need to think about how to incorporate this into their practices. Here is a sample of the article:
By the end of 2016, more than 80 million people in the United States and Canada will live in a jurisdiction allowing physician-assisted death. As such, this practice can no longer be considered a quirky experiment in a few states. The North American experience with physician-assisted death began in 1994, when voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure, the Death With Dignity Act, allowing a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of a medication that a patient voluntarily self-administers. Oregon stood alone for 14 years until Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), and now California (2015) approved similar laws. As of January 2016, the effective date of the California law, known as the End of Life Option Act, is uncertain. These laws are in general very similar, with safeguards that include requirements for a waiting period and that eligible patients be mentally competent, not mentally ill, and have a life expectancy of less than 6 months. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court removed prohibitions against physician-assisted death for competent patients. There are no reporting requirements in Montana, so little is known about the actual practice of physician-assisted death in that state. In 2015, the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously reversed a federal law that prohibited physician-assisted death and gave the government until June 2016 to establish mechanisms for access to such assistance. (citations omitted)
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