In Win for Assisted Living Residents, WV Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit to Proceed
A recent decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia opened the door for a class of individuals living in West Virginia assisted living facilities to take their case before a judge and jury.
The court ruled against Chancellor Senior Management, a Columbus-based organization that manages four assisted living facilities in West Virginia.
What started as a single injury case developed into a potential class action against Chancellor for violations of West Virginia’s Consumer Protection laws.
“We soon realized this was much bigger than one patient,” said attorney Damon Ellis.
The suit alleges that staffing decisions are not made based on the individual needs of the residents of the facilities, but rather based on pre-determined labor budgets designed to meet corporate profit objectives. The suit further alleges that the staffing decisions are not made at the individual facility or even at the state level; they are made at corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
“We took depositions of some of Chancellor’s senior managers in Columbus,” said attorney Jonathan Mani. “It turned out they had a formula that determined exactly how many man-hours of care each resident needed based on their individual conditions, but Chancellor only used that formula for billing purposes while ignoring it for staffing purposes. This is about as blatant an example of putting profits ahead of people as you can get.”
When Chancellor realized they were in legal trouble, they hired a Pittsburgh-based attorney for damage control. Chancellor asserted that the matter could not be heard by the public by way of a jury trial, but that it must to be resolved via secret arbitration. Chancellor pointed to an arbitration “agreement” buried deep inside the assisted living facility admission documents. The residents’ attorneys argued that the arbitration clause was invalid and the case should proceed in the public sphere.
“The arbitration clause was one part of a much larger admission packet, and it named a particular arbitrator. The issue is, the arbitrator’s own rules said that any arbitration agreement had to be a standalone agreement, not something slipped into a larger contract,” explained Mani. “As a matter of law, that means the agreement is unenforceable.”
West Virginia’s highest court agreed, declaring that the arbitration agreement could not be enforced on the grounds that one of the central premises of the agreement wasn’t met. This will allow the class action against Chancellor to move forward in a public forum in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
The attorneys at Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC say this isn’t just a victory for their clients, but for all assisted living residents and their families.
“Assisted living facilities are notorious for using ‘memory care’ as a means to progressively increase the cost to residents without providing additional care and then utilizing arbitration to shield themselves from accountability. These cases should be heard by juries, not arbitrators,” said attorney Bernard E. Layne, III. “Anytime a plaintiff’s attorney can chip away at that shield, it’s a victory for the public.”
This case received additional coverage on Law.com.