Wilkes & McHugh Law Firm's Departure Highlights Fall in Nursing Home Lawsuits

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jun. 9, 2014 12:00 am  

Source: Arkansas Department of Human Services

These strategies — limited or no insurance, complex corporate structure — have discouraged plaintiff’s lawyers.

“Just being a plaintiff’s lawyer is risky,” Buchanan said. “But when you’re dealing with sometimes folks who are intentionally trying to hide assets and evade any and all liability, it makes my job even more risky.”

“The vast majority of folks don’t have the resources to retain a lawyer, much less one who has any experience in this practice area,” he said.

Deficiencies Decline

As for whether care at nursing homes in Arkansas has improved since the big-judgment days at the turn of the century, state statistics indicate a decrease in deficiencies.

A chart by the Arkansas Department of Human Services shows that from 2002 through 2013, deficiencies found in nursing homes in the state reached a high of 4,119 in 2006 and fell to a low of 1,944 in 2013. (See table.) The number of “non-life safety code deficiencies,” which the department describes as encompassing hundreds of issues, ranging from patient privacy to quality of care and staffing, showed a similar pattern.

Asked about the decline in litigation and the disappearance of Wilkes & McHugh, the AHCA said:

“The Arkansas Health Care Association does not follow the ins and outs of law firms in Arkansas, nor do we track the number of lawsuits filed against nursing homes. If a plaintiff’s law firm known for focusing on nursing home lawsuits were to leave Arkansas, we can only point to the fact that the quality of care in our nursing homes continues to increase. Where quality of care for patients and peace of mind for families is the number one objective, there will obviously be less opportunity for trial lawyers.

“Our methodology has resulted in one of the highest care-to-patient staffing ratios in the nation. Enhanced staffing is the result of positive actions recommended by our profession, and championed by the Arkansas General Assembly, the Department of Human Services, Governor Beebe and our members and stakeholders. We believe that as the staffing ratios have improved in Arkansas, the high-profile claims of abuse and neglect have decreased.”

Plaintiff’s lawyers Reddick and Couch don’t think that nursing home care has substantially improved. However, Couch said, “I will say that a lot of bad actors have left the state,” citing defunct nursing home operator Beverly Enterprises as an example.

Reddick said the civil justice system worked in Arkansas to ferret out bad nursing home operators. Over the last 15 years, he said, “we’ve seen some of the rogue operators decide that this is not a good place to do business.”



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