Skilled Healthcare Settlement Approved by Court

Settlement in Skilled Healthcare suit has been approved by court and praised by nursing home reform advocates.

On December 1, 2010, the Times Standard interviewed The Janssen Law Firm's Lead Trial Lawyer Timothy Needham about the Humboldt County Superior Court's Final Approval of the Settlement in the Skilled Healthcare Lawsuit.   The $677 million dollar jury verdict was the largest award ever given by a Humboldt County Jury.

The Settlement value was estimated at $62.8 million and is also the largest known settlement achieved by any law firm in a Humboldt County case.   In addition to reaching a settlement, which could net the class of 42,000 persons up to $26 million, the settlement provides for an injunction which which will cost the nursing home chain an estimated $12.8 million to comply with.  The injunction allows for a third party monitor to inspect each of the 22 facilities implicated in the suit and ensure adequate staffing levels are being met. Humboldt County is home to five nursing homes operated by Skilled Healthcare, including Eureka facilities Granada and Eureka Healthcare and Rehabilitation.  One of the primary goals of this lawsuit was to help protect Humboldt County's seniors and dependent adults who reside in the Skilled Nursing Facilities by requiring improved staffing at our local nursing homes.

“Everything was fought tooth and nail,” said Timothy Needham, a partner with Janssen, Malloy, Needham, Morrison, Reinholtsen, Crowley & Griego, LLP, and lead trial attorney for a team of lawyers who represented the class, which if you include the months leading up to the preliminary settlement amounts to some 42,000 people.   “There was not one thing that was left uncontested.”

The case, which spans over six years, is believed to be the longest civil trial in Humboldt County history and featured 129 motions, 14 writs and two appeals.  Needham said that his office has received roughly 4,000 claims since news of the settlement was distributed to the class over a month ago and that only one person has filed an objection to the agreement.

“It's absolutely unheard of given the circumstances of the case,” Needham said, adding that he hasn't seen anything like it in 30 years of experience.  “I think the fact that so many people have already filed claims tells us we've done our job.”

The issue at the heart of the case, and one that was argued at nearly every turn during the 100-plus court days the case was in session, is a California statue that requires nursing homes to maintain 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day.

The injunction will be in effect for a period of two years, which can be knocked down if a facility is found to be in compliance for 18 months.  The agreement also gives the monitor the ability to check on a facility at any time of the day without notice, a big reason for the support of state nursing care advocate Pat McGinnis.

“From an advocate's standpoint, it's great.   I would hope this makes a real difference in these patients' lives, and becomes a standard in the future,” said McGinnis, the executive director of CANHR (California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform), adding that the agreement was the most substantial injunction the state has ever seen.   “It's just so unusual.   They've never had anything like this.”

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