Long-term care providers and their lawyers are preparing to defend the industry against claims of neglect and wrongful death of residents as lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic start being filed nationwide.
While plaintiff lawyers say residents are being neglected, defense lawyers say long-term care providers have been working hard to follow changing regulations on testing, personal protective equipment and infection control during a global pandemic that targets the elderly and puts intense pressures on healthcare providers.
On both sides, lawyers are preparing to argue cases where the rules are still being determined.
“It’s not very often that you’re on the cusp of an entirely new cause of action,” said Rachel Stahle, a nursing home abuse and neglect attorney and a partner at Dollar Burns & Becker, a law firm based in Kansas City, Mo.
Long-term care resident deaths represent roughly 40% of the COVID-19 deaths in the country. In nursing homes alone, there have been 112,383 deaths and 570,626 COVID-19 cases through Jan. 17, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I think whenever you have those kinds of statistics, it’s just going to prompt a heavy level of scrutiny,” said Jim Boswell, a partner and leader of the national healthcare team for King & Spalding, who represents long-term care facilities. “That’s just a reality that makes this unlike anything else this industry has faced.”
A COVID-19 complaint tracking tool maintained by law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth shows there are more than 8,000 COVID-19-related lawsuits across the country, not limited to healthcare, ranging from wrongful death cases to wrongful termination claims and insurance disputes. Bonnie Richardson, a partner at Richardson Wright, a law firm in Portland, Ore., said there are only about 170 cases involving COVID-19 in long-term care that have activity right now, and many of those include claims related to voting access tied to the elections.
“Across the nation, there are not really that many that have been filed, considering all of the people who have died,” said Richardson, who represents residents and their families.
Anna Idelevich, an attorney at Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial in Atlanta who represents long-term care providers, said, “This is really the beginning of the lawsuits.”
The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits ranges from two to four years, depending on the state, and pandemic-related long-term care lawsuits are just starting to be filed.