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Archive for August, 2018

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say….You Probably Shouldn’t Post It!

Posted on: August 22nd, 2018

By: Shaun DaughertySamantha Skolnick

Mothers all over the world have admonished their children: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  It may lose something when translated into some obscure dialects, but the sentiment was still there.  Now that we live in the age of technology, it appears that the old saying could use a facelift.  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, you should not type it anywhere on the internet.”  That is especially true if you are criticizing doctors and hospitals.

A wave of litigation has been emerging involving doctors and hospitals, but in these instances, they are not the targets, they are the plaintiffs.  Doctors and hospitals are starting to sue their patients for negative reviews on social media. The most recent example earned itself an article in USA Today where retired Colonel David Antoon had to pay $100 to settle felony charges for emailing his surgeon articles that the doctor found threatening as well as posting a list on Yelp of the surgeries the urologist had scheduled for the same time as his own.  Antoon alleged that his surgery left him incontinent and impotent and he had tried to appeal to the court of public opinion.

In other news, a Cleveland physician sued a former patient for defamation after the negative internet reviews of her doctor reached the level of deliberately false and defamatory statements. The case may be headed to trial in August. Close by, a Michigan hospital sued three relatives for Facebook posts and picketing which amounted to defamation, tortious interference and invasion of privacy. The family claimed that the hospital had mistreated their deceased grandmother.

We live in a country that ensures freedom of speech, and that right is exercised more than ever with the advent of social media and an ever-growing audience of participants.  However, there can be consequences if the speech is inaccurate or defamatory in nature.  While some attorneys, like Steve Hyman, cite the law in stating that “[t]ruth is an absolute defense. If you do that and don’t make a broader conclusion that they’re running a scam factory then you can write a truthful review that ‘I had a bad time with this doctor.’”  Other commentators, like Evan Mascagni from the Public Participation Project, tout avoiding broad generalizations, “If you’re going to make a factual assertion, be able to back that up and prove that fact.” That is defense against defamation claims 101.

The world of non-confrontational criticism on social medial makes it easy and tempting to post an emotionally fueled rant.  But beware!  You want to avoid a situation like that of Michelle Levine who has spent nearly $20,000 defending herself against a suit filed by her Gynecologist over defamation, libel, and emotional distress. The 24-hour rule is still a viable alternative to hitting “send” or “post.”  Type it out, let it sit and ruminate for a bit, and then decided if you are going to post the negative comments for the world to see.  Some opinions are worth sharing, or you may decide…. don’t say anything at all.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Shaun Daugherty at [email protected] or Samantha Skolnick at [email protected].

Don’t Get Bitten… Are You In Compliance With DOL’s COBRA Continuation Coverage Election Notice?

Posted on: August 21st, 2018

By: Pamela Everett

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida has certified a class action suit against Marriott International, Inc. for allegations that it failed to provide required notices of eligible terminated employees’ right to continued health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).  The law suit was filed by Alina Vazquez, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, who alleges violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), as amended by COBRA.  The Plaintiff asserted that after her termination as a covered employee and participant in Marriott’s health plan she was not provided with adequate notice of her rights to continued coverage under COBRA thus causing her to fail to enroll and incur excessive medical bills.

Marriott’s  plan provided medical benefits to employees and their beneficiaries, and is an employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1) and a group health plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1167(1).  COBRA requires the plan sponsor of each group health plan normally employing more than 20 employees on a typical business day during the preceding year to provide each qualified beneficiary who would lose coverage under the plan as a result of a qualifying event to elect, within the election period, continuation coverage under the plan.  This notice must be in accordance with the regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Labor. To facilitate compliance with these notice obligations, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued a Model COBRA Continuation Coverage Election Notice which is included in the Appendix to 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4.

Plaintiff alleged that, “Marriott authored and disseminated a notice that was not appropriately completed, deviating from the model form in violation of COBRA’s requirements, which failed to provide Plaintiff notice of all required coverage information and hindered Plaintiff’s ability to obtain continuation coverage”.  The  Model Notice also requires that notice shall be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant.   Specifically, in her suit the Plaintiff asserted that Marriott’s Notice violated the following requirements:

a. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(i) because it fails to provide the name, address and telephone number of the party responsible under the plan for the administration of continuation coverage benefits. Nowhere in the notice provided to Plaintiff is any party or entity clearly and unambiguously identified as the Plan Administrator.

b. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(iv) because it fails to provide all required explanatory information. There is no explanation that a legal guardian may elect continuation coverage on behalf of a minor child, or a minor child who may later become a qualified beneficiary.

c. The Notice violates 29 C.F.R. § 2590.606-4(b)(4)(vi) because it fails to provide an explanation of the consequences of failing to elect or waiving continuation coverage, including an explanation that a qualified beneficiary’s decision whether to elect continuation coverage will affect the future rights of qualified beneficiaries to portability of group health coverage, guaranteed access to individual health coverage, and special enrollment under part 7 of title I of the Act, with a reference to where a qualified beneficiary may obtain additional information about such rights; and a description of the plan’s procedures for revoking a waiver of the right to continuation coverage before the date by which the election must be made.”

In her certification of the class, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven also rejected Marriott’s argument that Vazquez’s claims were not typical because Vazquez could not understand English, could not  have understood the notice once it had been translated and could not afford COBRA continuation coverage.  Currently there is no requirement that the Notice be provided in any language other than English.  Perhaps this suit will change that requirement in a manner similar to some of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Most importantly, this case highlights the importance of ensuring that your company complies with DOL regulations, and to the extent practicable, utilizes the forms provided.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Pamela Everett at [email protected].

Following in the Footsteps of Lebron James? Ohio Parts Ways with the Restatement of Liability Insurance

Posted on: August 17th, 2018

By: Matthew Weiss

Last week Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law legislation that rejected the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance, claiming that it “does not constitute the public policy of Ohio.”  According to ALI, the legislation marks the first time a state has rejected a Restatement in its entirety.

The Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance was approved by the ALI in May but has received a decidedly mixed public reaction.  Insurance attorneys have criticized numerous provisions within the Restatement.

In one example, lawyers have disagreed with the Restatement’s adoption of a “plain meaning presumption” in the interpretation of insurance contracts in the Comment to Section 3, rather than the “plain meaning rule” used in a majority of states.  This means that the Restatement advocates a “contextual approach” when interpreting provisions that requires the utilization of custom, practice, or usage.  In effect, this would lead courts to interpret insurance policies in light of the circumstances surrounding the drafting, negotiation, and performance of the policy.  By contrast, the plain meaning rule states that when a provision is “unambiguous” when applied to a claim in the context of the entire policy, courts must interpret the provision according to its plain meaning.

Another controversial provision is Section 8, which uses the word “substantiality” with respect to misrepresentation of material facts.  Experts claim that the word is unnecessarily vague and at odds with existing statutory and common law governing misrepresentation and rescission.  Similarly, Section 13 of the Restatement deviates from the majority of states by creating a duty to defend not only based on the allegations of a complaint, but also based on extrinsic evidence known to the insurer.  Finally, Section 11 provides that an insurer does not have a right to receive any information of the insured that is protected by attorney-client privilege, work-product immunity, or a lawyer’s duty of confidentiality under the rules of professional conduct if that information could be used to benefit the insurer at the expense of the insured.

The actual impact of the Restatement’s deviations from established case law in the field of liability insurance is subject to debate.  While the Restatement may have an impact in areas where limited case law exists nationally on a particular issue, where state law is silent on an issue, or where case law exists within a jurisdiction but no clear rule has been established, the Restatement will not overcome a rule in a state where clear precedent exists on a topic.

The impact of the Restatement of Liability Insurance remains to be seen, but the Ohio legislation is more likely to be the beginning, rather than the end, of a debate concerning its relevance and practicality.

For more information about the Restatement, or other insurance coverage issues, please contact Matthew Weiss of the Law Firm Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP at (678) 399-6356 or [email protected].

Smart Cities Face Hacking Threat

Posted on: August 15th, 2018

By: Ze’eva Kushner

As you sit in traffic, frustrated and wondering why the city or municipality cannot do something to ease congestion, know that a city’s use of internet-connected technology to make your commute better may also invite hackers to wreak havoc on your city.

Traffic is just one of many problems that “smart cities” use internet-connected technology to address.  A smart city can set up an array of sensors and integrate their data to monitor things like air quality, water levels, radiation, and the electrical grid.  That data then can be used to automatically inform fundamental services like traffic and street lights and emergency alerts.

Smart city technology provides many benefits to city management, including connectivity and ease of management.  However, these very same features make the technology an attractive target for hackers.  In a recently released white paper, IBM revealed 17 vulnerabilities in smart city systems around the world.  Some of these risks were as simple as failing to change default passwords that could be guessed easily, bugs that could allow an attacker to inject malicious software commands, and others that would allow an attacker to sidestep authentication checks.  Additionally, use of the open internet rather than an internal city network to connect sensors or relay data to the cloud presents an opportunity for hackers.

Atlanta is an example of a smart city that is attempting to improve its efficiency by employing smart city technology, with its focus being mobility, public safety, environment, city operations efficiency, and public and business engagement.  Atlanta knows all too well how crippling a hack can be, as it suffered from the ransomware attack in the Spring that kept residents from services such as paying their water bills or traffic tickets online.  The hacking threat to smart cities is real and significant.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ze’eva Kushner at [email protected].

Another Day, Another Dollar: Private Detention Center Sued By Detainees for Violations of the Washington Minimum Wage Act

Posted on: August 9th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

A lawsuit filed by thousands of detained immigrants held at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington alleges systematic wage theft by GEO Group, Inc.  The Plaintiffs seek to recover wages under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, as well as other damages allowable under State law.

GEO Group, Inc. has owned and operated the NWDC, which has 1,500 beds for immigrants, since 2005.  The lawsuit alleges that rather than hire from local workforce, GEO relies upon “captive detainee workers to clean, maintain, and operate NWDC.”  It further states that “GEO’s NWDC Detainee Handbook describes detainee work assignments as including kitchen and laundry work, as well as recreation/library/barber and janitorial services.  The Handbook refers to these various tasks as ‘work’ and a ‘job,’ and references ‘wages earned’ by detainee ‘workers.’”

The Plaintiffs asked the Federal District Court for class certification.  Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington determined that the detained immigrants have an “employment relationship with GEO.”  The Judge determined that the group of detained immigrants all participate in a volunteer program at NWDC and allege the same “injury,” which is that they are only paid a $1 per day for work, “an amount not commensurate” with the law.  The Judge granted certification for the Plaintiffs to proceed as a class.

In addition to the Federal lawsuit, the State of Washington has also brought a lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. in the State Superior Court that alleges GEO is violating the State’s minimum wage laws.  The Attorney General for the State of Washington, Bob Ferguson, stated, “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day. That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and others, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes.  The outcome of these cases will have significant effect on the way prison systems treat and compensate detained workers.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].