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Archive for the ‘Coronavirus – Tort and Catastrophic Loss’ Category

Potential New Reporting Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities in the Commonwealth in Response to COVID-19

Posted on: May 14th, 2020

By: Janet Barringer, William Gildea and Kevin Kenneally

In the wake of alarming reports from other states that nursing homes were forced to accept known COVID-19 positive residents, a policy which may have caused the spike in healthy nursing home residents becoming infected, Massachusetts has proposed sweeping legislation to protect senior citizens and to require daily reporting from Long-Term Care residences to ensure patient and resident safety. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts State Legislature has proposed legislation that will impact reporting requirements for long-term care facilities, including assisted-living facilities and state correctional facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If enacted, Massachusetts Senate Bill S.2695 would significantly impact day-to-day operations at long-term care facilities.  Facilities will have to consider how to change their respective operations to meet reporting requirements.  

The proposed legislation will demand close monitoring of COVID-19 cases of residents and employees in Long-Term care facilities and increase reporting requirements.  Massachusetts Senate Bill S.2695 proposes the Department of Public Health collect daily data sets from local Boards of Health, including but not limited to:

  • the total number of people tested for COVID-19 within the previous 24 hours;
  • the total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 24 hours;
  • the total number of people who have died due to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 or from complications related to COVID-19, as reported in the previous 24 hours through the department’s receipt of vital records;
  • the aggregate number of people who have died due to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19 or from complications related to COVID-19 since the governor’s March 10, 2020 declaration of a case of COVID-19, including, but not limited to:
    • gender;
    • race;
    • ethnicity;
    • primary city or town of residence;
    • age;
    • disability.

The proposed legislation calls for the Department of Public Health to publish daily reports of the data collected.  The daily reports would be compiled by geographic location, including by county and municipality, and assisted living residences licensed by the executive office of elder affairs and long-term care facilities licensed by the department of public health, including the number of COVID-19 positive cases andmortalities among residents, as well as the aggregate number of COVID-19 positive cases and mortalities among staff at each residence or facility. 

Assisted-living facilities licensed by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and long-term care facilities licensed by the Department of Public Health will be required to notify residents and their representatives within twelve (12) hours if there is a confirmed case of or death due to COVID-19 in a resident or staff member and/or if three (3) or more residents/staff have a new onset of respiratory symptoms within the previous seventy-two (72) hours.  The proposed legislation also calls for a task force to study and make policy recommendations that address health disparities for underserved or underrepresented populations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The proposed legislation would no longer be in effect after the governor certifies there has been no positive COVID-19 test in the Commonwealth.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Kenneally at [email protected], Janet Barringer at [email protected] or William Gildea at [email protected].

Additional Information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include tort claims in a post COVID-19 world, real estate issues amid the pandemic and more. Click here to view upcoming webinars.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Massachusetts: Relief Funds For Nursing Home & Other Long-term Care Facilities Fighting COVID-19

Posted on: April 27th, 2020

By: Janet Barringer and William Gildea

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced on April 27, 2020 the Commonwealth will allocate $130 Million to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in Massachusetts to assist in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. The COVID-19 Nursing Facility and Accountability Support document states “[n]ursing facilities account for more than half of COVID-19 related deaths in the state.” The rapid rate of infection and mortality is driven by the “health status of residents, lack of infection control sophistication and for crisis management, substantial staffing issues (up to 20-40% of call out rates), and difficulty cohorting residents to decrease transmission.”

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should take note of this new assistance offered by the Commonwealth to help the battle against COVID-19. The Press Release provides the following:

  • Funding will support staffing costs, infection control and personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Funding is dependent on required COVID-19 testing of all staff and residents, regular infection control audits, appropriate allocation of funding and the public release of facility performance and funding use;
    • Facilities must test all staff and residents, and report results to the Commonwealth. Facilities are also encouraged to identify and pursue testing avenues with area hospitals, EMS or other providers. The state’s mobile testing program is available for those facilities unable to set up testing.
    • All nursing facilities will be regularly audited in-person for infection control and accountability, and each will receive a baseline audit during the first two weeks of May. These clinical audits will be conducted using a 28-point Infection Control Checklist, based on DPH, CDC and industry guidance. This checklist includes infection control, PPE supply and usage, staffing, clinical care, and communication requirements.
    • Frequency of audits is dependent upon a variety of factors including: Audit Rating, historically documented infection control issues, staffing levels based on industry standard hours per patient day of care and call-out rates, level of COVID-19 infection, and quality rating by the Nursing Facility Taskforce.
  • Facilities will be scored into three ratings: in adherence (green), in adherence but warrants inspection (yellow) and not in adherence (red).
  • The Commonwealth will offer support for temporary staffing assistance for all nursing homes in need, including clinical response teams of 120 nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants deployed in teams of 10 during emergency situations, crisis management support and deployment of the Massachusetts National Guard;
  • All performance measures and funding use will be publicly reported using a mandatory reporting template, and the Commonwealth will provide consolidated information in the testing completion status by facility, COVID-19 case counts and mortality of staff and residents, and audit results. These reports will be due shortly after June 30th, and the Commonwealth will then compile and deliver a public report.
  • Funding is directly linked to an audit rating over time and, if qualified, will be dispersed biweekly over four “pay periods.”

Governor Baker promised to be “aggressive” in assisting long term care facilities impacted by COVID 19. The $130 Million in relief funds and associated steps for protection are examples of the care extended by Massachusetts to those who live and work in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Janet Barringer at [email protected] and William Gildea at [email protected].

Georgia’s first taste of COVID-19 lawsuits in long term care facilities

Posted on: April 27th, 2020

By: Shaun Daugherty

It has been highly publicized that long-term care facilities were devastated by the effects of COVID-19 on its residents and the filing of negligence suits against long-term care facilities in its wake was inevitable. Four such cases were filed in Fulton State Court on April 23, 2020. All of the cases involve the same facility, the same plaintiffs’ firm, and similar fact patterns and allegations. 

Each complaint alleges that the facility negligently failed to follow precautionary restrictions that were put in place at the facility starting on March 11, 2020. Coincidentally, that is the same date that the WHO declared a global pandemic and two days before President Trump declared a national emergency. In fact, if the allegations in the complaints are accurate, then these restrictions were implemented by the facility ten days before the CDC issued guidance to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. 

However, the claims appear to be centered on whether the restrictions were followed rather than their timely implementation. Plaintiffs claim that despite the imposition of the restrictions, employees failed to wear personal protective equipment and asymptomatic staff that were exposed to COVID-19 were permitted to continue to work. In each of these four cases, it is alleged that the residents tested positive for COVID-19 and died as a result. 

These appear to be the first cases in Georgia of their kind. However, earlier this month, a negligence and fraud case was filed in Washington state related to the well-publicized issues that occurred at the Life Care Center at Kirkland and the subsequent death of one of the residents. These Georgia cases will likely be the first to test Governor Kemp’s Executive Order that extended civil liability immunity. There are also a host of additional defenses that will likely be asserted related to timeliness, reasonableness, and, significantly, proximate cause. There is a recognized difference in dying with a diagnosis of COVID-19 and dying because of the disease.  Residents in these facilities were likely already suffering from a number of co-morbidities that placed them in the high-risk category to begin with.  Expert testimony in the many fields of medicine will likely become involved on both sides. 

There are also a host of additional defenses that will likely be asserted related to timeliness, reasonableness, and, significantly, proximate cause. There is a recognized difference in dying with a diagnosis of COVID-19 and dying because of the disease.  Residents in these facilities were likely already suffering from a number of co-morbidities that placed them in the high-risk category to begin with.  Expert testimony in the many fields of medicine will likely become involved on both sides. 

These cases will be watched closely by the legal community and will likely be the measuring sticks on causes of action and defenses for the expected onslaught of new claims that are on the way. 

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

State Governments Extend Limited Immunity to Healthcare Providers Engaged in Treatment of Coronavirus

Posted on: April 17th, 2020

By: Shaun Daugherty, Erin Lamb and Andy Treese

As doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other healthcare providers have thrown themselves wholly into the challenge of fighting the coronavirus, some have asked whether they are exposed to new or additional exposure for medical negligence.  Governors and state legislators across the country are working to curtail such exposure by extending limited immunity to healthcare workers responding to coronavirus. 

In Georgia, Governor Kemp has issued an executive order designating employees, contractors and staff of hospitals and other healthcare facilities as “auxiliary emergency management workers” within the meaning of the Georgia Emergency Management Act.  The designation brings the workers under the ambit of O.C.G.A. § 38-3-35, which affords immunity to auxiliary emergency management workers engaged in emergency management activities, when they are complying or reasonably attempting to comply with the state’s emergency management code, regulations or emergency orders issued by state under the authority code, or with locally issued ordinances or emergency orders.  The immunity, although powerful, does not apply where a provider acts with “willful misconduct, gross negligence, or bad faith” and is therefore unlikely to complete preclude litigation.  Previously state courts have expressed a willingness to permit discovery to determine whether an individual has acted in bad faith, while other courts are reluctant to grant summary judgment even where the standard is gross negligence.

In New Jersey, where Covid-19 prompted the state Department of Public Health to issue “last resort guidance” to hospitals to address bioethical questions about rationing ventilators, Governor Phil Murphy has signed Senate Bill 2333, granting civil and criminal immunity to not only health care professionals treating Covid-19 patients, but also extending that immunity to health care facilities and health care systems, retroactive to March 9, 2020.  The Bill grants immunity to any act or omission taken in good faith by any of those people or entities, including but not limited to those engaging in telemedicine or telehealth, and in diagnosing or treating patients outside the normal scope of the professional or facility’s licensing, so long as such efforts are in support of “the State’s efforts in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.” The bill further extends immunity to damages for injury or death “in connection with the allocation of mechanical ventilators or other scarce medical resources,” so long as the facility or system adopts and adheres to a “scarce critical resource allocation policy that at a minimum incorporates the core principles identified by the Commission of Health…”  The state senate was unable to hold hearings on the bill, but attached a statement that its intent was to grant immunity to all medical personnel supporting “the Covid-19 response.” The statement specifically notes, however, that the Bill does not grant immunity to medical care rendered in the ordinary course of medical practice, including orthopedic procedures, OB/Gyn services, and necessary cardiological procedures. The New Jersey immunity does not apply to acts constituting crimes, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct.

As of this writing, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Kentucky, Illinois, New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan have taken similar measures, whether by legislative act or executive orders.  In New York, Governor Cuomo has extended limited immunity to healthcare providers by executive order, and legislative measures are pending.  No legislative action has been taken in Pennsylvania, though media reports indicate that advocacy groups are asking Governor Wolf for an executive order.

Please contact Shaun Daugherty at [email protected], Erin Lamb at[email protected] or Andy Treese at [email protected] if you have specific questions about the immunities afforded to healthcare workers engaged in coronavirus response.  The healthcare team at Freeman Mathis & Gary will continue to monitor the status of state and local responses to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Additional Information:

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER:  The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19.  The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement.  We can only give legal advice to clients.  Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG.  An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest.  As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such.  We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**

Ready Camera One: Remote Litigation in the Era of Social Distancing

Posted on: April 7th, 2020

By: Jennifer Adair, Jennifer Markowski and Andy Treese

Evaluating claims to move them towards resolution or trial is the lifeblood of a defense practice. This typically requires direct interaction with a plaintiff and key witnesses, either at deposition (to hear their testimony, to form impressions of how they will be received by a jury), at mediation (to assure the plaintiff personally understands the strengths and weaknesses of the case), or at trial.  In person interaction is simply not as practical as it used to be and, in some places, it might be illegal.  It is not surprising that we have been fielding inquiries from claims professionals and their insureds about whether we can continue to move their cases forward by conducting discovery and settling claims in an age of social distancing. 

The answer is yes.  At Freeman Mathis & Gary our attorneys routinely take depositions remotely and have had great success with remote mediation.  Both, however, carry their own practical considerations.

  • Depositions.  Remote depositions have been around for well over a decade, but the increased demand is changing the marketplace.  Many lawyers who have never used or have avoided remote deposition technology no longer have a practical choice.  Some are adapting more quickly than others:  we have seen some opposing counsel take clean, effective depositions by video, but we have also seen opposing counsel take depositions that were not effective due to lack of familiarity with the technology and/or a misunderstanding of the different methodologies necessary to prepare for a remote deposition.  Counsel should consider several factors when preparing for and conducting an online deposition: 
    • Is this a deposition you are willing to take remotely?  Minor witnesses, some experts, or witnesses in cases with low exposure can probably be deposed remotely without concern.  Depending on the facts and exposure associated with the case, there may be some witnesses you may simply want to depose in person, even if it delays the case for 45-60 days. 
    • Prepare for your deposition at least two days early.  Identify the exhibits you are certain to use at the deposition and assure they can be presented cleanly to the witness.   For those that are obvious (complaint, incident report, interrogatory responses, etc.) consider having them pre-marked and distributed by email to opposing counsel, the witness and court reporter to speed the deposition along.  Also, identify documents you may want to use (medical records, photographs, etc.) and have those available and ready to present during the deposition. These can be circulated by email and shown to the participants using the screen sharing function of most videoconferencing technology.
    • Understand the technology. What program will be used? How will exhibits be presented?  Have you tested the video conferencing software or any other technology you need to use during the deposition?  How does the audio system work (i.e. can more than one person speak at a time or would an objection by counsel also inadvertently mute the witness’ microphone)?
    • Consider the logistics of the oath.  Who will place the witness under oath and where will they be?  Does your state permit oaths to be administered remotely?  Consider making a formal stipulation on the record that, due to the pandemic, the parties agree to the sufficiency of an oath administered remotely.
    • Decide how objections will be handled.  If it suits your purpose strategically, you and opposing counsel may choose to reserve some objections that would typically be made on the record.
    • Understand the cost and the final product.  How much is the vendor charging for this deposition as opposed to a standard deposition?  Are they generating a traditional transcript or is the deposition also being recorded?
    • Make a plan for confidentiality. If the witness is your client, plan in advance how you will communicate (by email, texting, etc.) during the course of the deposition to avoid inadvertent disclosures. Make sure you know how to turn off your camera and microphone or, better yet, go into another room to converse with your client.
    • Expect the deposition to take longer than usual. Don’t allow logistical limitations to curtail zealous representation.
  • Mediations.  Mediation and other forms of ADR are effective because a knowledgeable, competent mediator can provide litigants and their counsel on both sides a “reality check” as to the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.  The process works better when the mediator can speak directly to the parties and for that reason, our instinct in the past has been to require personal attendance at mediation.  So far, however, we have found remote mediation to make sense for several reasons:
    • Remote mediation is generally effective.   Some cases simply don’t settle until a mediator twists a metaphorical arm or two.   Is that effective when the literal arms aren’t in the same room as the mediator?   So far, anyway, the answer seems to be yes – when the technology works.  Where that is the case, mediators can still engage in private caucuses and have the ability to review or share exhibits, documents, etc. as needed.   We can envision specific cases where a video mediation might not be appropriate but so far, remote mediation has been getting cases resolved.
    • Remote mediations keep cases moving.  Governmental orders aside, many of our adjusters and risk managers have been restricted by their employers from non-essential travel for the foreseeable future.  Remote mediation presents a cost-effective opportunity to resolve cases now.
    • Remote mediation is cost effective (for now).  Most of our vendors are currently providing remote mediation services at no extra charge.  Remember, mediation centers are a business, too, and have a vested interest in keeping their dockets full by providing the technology and know-how to make mediation convenient to the parties, via Zoom or similar systems. 
    • Litigants may have a greater motivation to settle their claims when faced with the reality that jury trials for civil cases seem unlikely to take place for at least several months after state and local judicial emergencies resolve.
    • Attorneys want to keep cases moving, too. Counsel may view remote mediation as a step that can be taken towards trial.  Most courts already require ADR / mediation before trial.  Others are likely to being imposing that requirement to control their post-coronavirus dockets. 
    • Understand privacy issues related to the technology. Media reports suggest that Zoom and potentially other platforms are at risk for security issues.  Make sure the mediator provides a password for participants to gain access, and that meetings are locked so that nobody can join without the moderator’s permission. Ensure that the mediator has disabled the recording function, and that chat is not archived. Ask your mediator to send instructions in advance so that you are comfortable with the measures being taken, and can request any additional protections you deem appropriate.

At Freeman Mathis & Gary, our team will continue to monitor and report on the use of emerging technologies to litigate claims and obtain favorable outcomes for our clients.

Additional information:

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues on a regular basis. Topics include COVID-19’s impact on finances and loans, the FFCRA, the CARES Act and more. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce education content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.**