One of the largest nursing home companies has filed bankruptcy, claiming that more than 160 lawsuits led to its financial demise. The bankruptcy leaves scores of pending cases in limbo - nearly 20 cases in Texas, 97 in Kentucky, and 27 in New Mexico are pending.
The lawsuits include:
A case in Kentucky, in which a 45-year-old man went missing for hours before he was found dead in a stairwell, his wheelchair on top of his chest. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
A suit by New Mexico’s attorney general after claims that residents from several facilities were left for hours in dirty clothing, sheets, and diapers, and developed dangerous bed sores as they waited for help.
A case in which nursing home staff at a New Mexico facility dropped a 70-year-old man in the shower. He stopped breathing and had to be rushed to the emergency room. The man never recovered and died two months later, according to a lawsuit filed by the family. The case is still pending.
A Texas wrongful death claim after a 50-year-old woman went into septic shock from a severe infection caused organ failure. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Other problems have included the beating death of two residents at the hands of a mentally ill roommate and the conviction by a sexual predator who abused fellow residents. The company has also come under scrutiny for an unusually large percentage of its homes receiving poor ratings, based on federal inspection data. Its 12 nursing homes in New Mexico alone have had more than 700 violations, such as overmedicating patients, insufficient staffing and not addressing complaints.
The company stated that the lawsuits are hurting the company’s bottom line, and the bankruptcy filing will allow for the redirection of funds back into the facilities for patient care. However, attorneys and the families they represent say the bankruptcy filing is a legal maneuver to avoid accountability and the company’s obligation to payout millions of dollars to patients and their families for poor quality care, neglect, injuries, illnesses and even the wrongful deaths.
Despite filing for bankruptcy, the company will continue operating. Corporate plans for restructuring includes selling all facilities in New Mexico and Kentucky; homes in Texas remain open and are not affected by the bankruptcy. Why? The company portrays itself as a victim of a tort reform system run amok. However, it is choosing to leave Kentucky (one of the most tort-reformed states in the union) because it does not want to be held accountable, while remaining in Texas (the poster child of states that protect negligent corporations against those that they injure and kill).
Filing for bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits is an underhanded strategy. In the meantime, many plaintiffs will wait for justice – justice which they may never receive because the bankruptcy ultimately shields them against the settlement. If the company goes through reorganization, there is a strong possibility that the bankruptcy court will liquidate all claims so the company can come out of bankruptcy with a fresh start, without a mound of litigation to resolve. In essence, the whole bankruptcy scheme becomes the defendants’ way to bilk innocent victims.
Rights are being limited and sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit (whether it is called “bankruptcy” or “tort reform”) all over the country. And because most of us are not personally affected, we ignore efforts to trample on our rights. Someday, it may you or your loved ones who need access to our civil justice system and find it “closed.” Don’t wait for that to happen. We all need to stand up to corporations that have put profits over safety; those that devastate families nationwide due to negligence and then try to circumvent justice and avoid responsibility.
It is time corporations stop blaming their troubles on lawyers, lawsuits, or the state legislature. We don't need arbitrary damages caps for someone else's pain or suffering; we have juries to make these decisions based on the merits of each case. The company should focus its efforts on providing quality patient care, thus avoiding lawsuits completely. Focus on safety instead of making it harder for innocent victims to seek compensation and refusing to operate in states that don’t promote your greedy tactics. Practice that and you would not be faced with 160 lawsuits.