SAN DIEGO (July 20, 2011) Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps LLP, one of California’s leading litigation firms, announced today that partner Christopher Healey is among a group of California attorneys who have earned the 2011 “Trial Lawyers of the Year” award given by the Public Justice Foundation, a national public interest group based in Washington, D.C.
Healey, who works out of Luce Forward’s San Diego office, received the award along with attorneys Tim Needham of Eureka, Calif., Michael Thamer of Callahan, Calif.; and Michael Crowley, Patrik Griego and Amelia Burroughs, also of Eureka. The team of attorneys was recognized at the Public Justice Foundation’s annual Gala and Awards Dinner on July 12 in New York City.
Other Luce Forward attorneys who participated in the case included Aaron Winn, Charles Bird, Christopher Rowlett, Ben West, and James Danaher.
The team was cited for having won a staggering $677 million jury verdict against Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc., a for-profit corporation that owns and operates nursing homes throughout the United States. Healey and his colleagues represented a class of approximately 32,000 current and former nursing home residents and their families in Lavender v. Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc. It was the first class-wide understaffing case to be tried to verdict and the largest ever verdict against a nursing home chain.
“The experts told us that minimum staffing is inextricably tied to decent care for these vulnerable residents,” Healey said. “It seemed clear to me that a class case was the only viable way to obtain compliance with the law. I only hope that the attention this verdict receives from the media and public will help further protect seniors and disabled adults in skilled nursing facilities.”
Luce Forward was asked to participate in the case primarily due to the firm’s recognized expertise in class action litigation, including defending institutional clients in non-nursing matters. The legal team filed the class action lawsuit in May 2006, contending that 22 California nursing homes owned by Skilled Healthcare were in violation of California health and safety laws by failing to provide adequate staffing for its residents over a period from 2003 to 2010.
In July 2010, a Humboldt County jury awarded the class a historic $677 million, finding that Skilled Healthcare had failed to maintain the state-mandated 3.2 hours of “direct nursing services” per patient per day at all 22 of its facilities over the course of more than six years.
Because the amount of the jury’s award far exceeded the defendant’s net worth, the parties entered into mediation after trial. In December 2010, the court approved a settlement requiring the defendant to pay $50 million to the class and to spend $12.8 million over a two-year period to improve staffing levels in its nursing homes, which includes paying for a court-appointed monitor to ensure compliance.
The Lavender case has had a major impact on the nursing home industry. The verdict forced a significant number of nursing homes to increase the level of care they provide and caused nursing homes throughout California to re-evaluate their staffing levels.
The case also filled an important void by getting justice for thousands of citizens that the state could not protect: The Department of Public Health, suffering from the state’s significant budget deficit, simply lacked the resources to enforce its policy of protecting elders in residential care facilities. Other plaintiffs’ attorneys are now helping to fill this void, thanks to the victory that Healey and his colleagues achieved in the Lavender case.
About Luce Forward
Founded in 1873, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps LLP is a full-service California law firm with offices in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel Valley/Del Mar, Orange County and Rancho Santa Fe. For more information, visit www.luce.com.