This newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date with changes in the law. For help with these or any other legal issues, please call today. The information in this newsletter is intended solely for your information. It does not constitute legal advice, and it should not be relied on without a discussion of your specific situation with an attorney.

 

The family of a patient who died in a nursing home could sue the nurses who took care of her – even though the patient’s contract with the home said that the home couldn’t be sued and any complaints had to go to arbitration instead.

The family claimed that three nurses ignored warning signs of the patient’s heart problem, and she died as a result.

The contract said that the family couldn’t sue the home. However, it did not say that the family couldn’t sue the nurses individually, and therefore the suit against them is okay, the Massachusetts Superior Court decided.

limoatnightA limousine company can be sued where it dropped off a drunk passenger at his car and the passenger then drove drunk and killed someone.

The limo had been hired by six men attending a bachelor party. It picked them up at a Boston sports bar, drove them to a Rhode Island club, and then returned them to the sports bar.

Sadly, one of the men drove off and had an accident. He killed an off-duty police officer and injured two other people.

The injured people and officer’s family sued the limo company.

The court said the limo company could be sued for negligence. It said the limo driver knew the passenger was drunk and could have foreseen that he would drive, since when he dropped him off after 2:00 a.m., the bar was closed and the MBTA had stopped running.

On the other hand, it’s not clear what the limo company could have done – it didn’t have a right to restrain the passenger against his will or take him someplace he didn’t want to go.

The case is part of a recent trend in Massachusetts to allow more businesses to be sued after a drunk-driving accident. Recently, the state Appeals Court allowed a liquor store to be sued for selling beer to a minor, even though the minor himself didn’t drink and drive. The minor shared the beer with a friend, and the friend caused a car crash.

A new federal law signed by President Obama will make it easier to sue an employer for wage discrimination.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named after Lilly Ledbetter, who worked as a plant manager for Goodyear Tire but realized only after some years had passed that she was getting paid less than her male counterparts. When she sued for wage discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court threw the case out, saying she had filed it too late – after the 180-day limit that began when the pay decision was first made.

The law overturns the Supreme Court decision. Now, employees alleging pay discrimination will be able to file a claim within 180 days of the issuance of any discriminatory paycheck … as opposed to 180 days from the first paycheck.

A large Boston jury verdict in the case of a woman who died from an infection while undergoing cancer treatment illustrates a growing trend across the country toward lawsuits against health-care providers for causing (or not preventing) such infections.

Nationally, more than 2 million people each year develop serious infections while they’re in the hospital being treated for something else. And about 90,000 of them die as a result.

In addition, another 1.4 million people each year develop infections while in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

In the Boston case, a mother of two young girls who was undergoing cancer treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute developed a flesh-eating bacterial infection and died. Her family sued the doctors, and a jury awarded them $13.5 million. (Dana-Farber wasn’t sued.)

One reason this type of lawsuit has become more common recently is a sharp uptick in cases of MRSA, one of the deadliest such infections.

MRSA stands for “Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.” It’s basically a staph infection that doesn’t respond to treatment with common antibiotics. Typical symptoms are a high fever accompanied by skin wounds, such as boils, abscesses, lesions and blisters.

Of course, not all infections that develop in a hospital are the hospital’s fault. Many people enter hospitals already carrying staph bacteria. The bacteria don’t affect them when they are healthy, but they gain a foothold when the person’s immune system is compromised – usually by whatever condition brought them to the hospital in the first place.

However, MRSA can also be spread as a result of unsanitary conditions, so if a hospital or nursing home fails to take reasonable precautions against the spread of the bacteria, it could be held responsible in court. (Many successful lawsuits have been brought against prisons because of MRSA, because prisons tend to be much less sanitary than hospitals.)

The threat of lawsuits has caused many hospitals and nursing homes to enact stricter measures to protect patients against harm.

Lawsuits can also be brought against doctors and hospitals for failing to properly diagnose an infection, which is what happened in the Dana-Farber case.

If you’re in a hospital, one of the best ways to prevent infections is to ask your visitors to thoroughly wash their hands before entering your room. If you’re going to have surgery, consider asking your surgeon to test you for MRSA at least a week before you’re admitted to the hospital.

All of us are affected by the economic recession, but you should know that certain estate planning techniques become much more valuable when asset prices plunge – so this is a good time to take advantage of them.

Some of the best estate planning strategies involve giving a partial interest in your assets to your heirs now, while retaining effective control over the assets. The idea is to get these partial interests out of your estate at today’s value, rather than later when they will presumably be worth more.

And if you can get these interests out of your estate in a period when asset prices are temporarily depressed, the savings can be even greater.

So now might be a good time to pass on to your heirs an interest in a family business, real estate investments, a vacation home, or other assets.

Some of the techniques that might be worth considering are a family limited partnership, a retained-interest trust, and a qualified personal residence trust.

Did you elect to take Social Security benefits before your full retirement age? If you did and are now looking for extra income, there may be an answer. Once you reach full retirement age, you can pay back the money you have received and reapply for full retirement benefits.

Although you can collect Social Security benefits between age 62 and your full retirement age, if you do, your benefits will be lower. For example, if you were born in 1944 and decided to retire at age 62, four years before your full retirement age of 66, your total benefit reduction is 25 percent. If your full benefit was to be $1,000 a month, your reduced benefit is $750.

A little-known provision of the Social Security laws allows you to withdraw your application for early benefits and reapply for your full benefits. The catch is that you must be able to pay back all the money you received so far.

However, because you don’t have to pay any interest on the benefits you received, if you can find the money to repay the benefits, it may be worth it. You could think of it as an interest-free loan.

“Binding mediation” – a hybrid of mediation and arbitration – is catching on as an alternative to a full-blown court trial.

In arbitration, a private arbitrator acts as a judge and issues a binding decision. In mediation, a mediator or “go-between” tries to resolve the dispute by working with both sides, but can’t force an outcome.

Binding mediation is a combination of the two: A mediator brings the parties together and tries to negotiate a compromise, but if that doesn’t work, the mediator can issue a binding decision.

In some cases, binding mediation can achieve many of the benefits of both mediation and arbitration. Like mediation, it is relatively quick and inexpensive and may help preserve existing relationships between the parties. But it also provides the finality offered by arbitration.

A big advantage of binding mediation is that it tends to promote more good faith, reasonable bargaining than might otherwise be the case. In a traditional mediation, either side can end the mediation at any time without fear of adverse consequences from “tough” negotiating. But in a binding mediation, both sides will want to be on “good behavior” when they negotiate because they know that their credibility and reasonableness will be taken into account by the mediator if he or she ends up having to make a binding decision.