A lawsuit against a Fort Smith-based nursing home company can proceed as a class-action suit, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled this week.
The court affirmed a decision to grant class-action certification to a suit alleging Batesville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center failed to live up to contractual and statutory obligations to take care of the basic daily needs of hundreds of residents.
The suit, filed in 2005 by Annette Thomas, names the nursing home and its parent company, which was known in 2005 as Beverly Enterprises, as defendants. Beverly changed its name to Golden Horizons last year following its purchase by Golden Gate National Senior Care.
The suit alleges between Sept. 13, 2000, and June 30, 2004, the nursing home failed to care properly for 489 residents by, among other things, failing to provide adequate staffing and failing to provide a clean, safe living environment.
Attorney Philip Bohrer of Baton Rouge, La., argued the case did not include personal injury claims, but rather claims involving issues such as understaffing which would have affected all residents of the facility. Granting class-action status was preferable to “having 400 individual trials on the same issue and the same evidence,” he said.
Bohrer also said many of the plaintiffs are elderly and unaware of their rights and would not be able to file individual claims against the company.
In its decision Thursday, the Supreme Court said the plaintiffs showed the case met the criteria for class-action certification. The justices agreed with Harkey the defendants would benefit from class-action status.
“A class action is clearly a more efficient way of handling a case where there is a predominating, common issue to be resolved for all 489 class members. A class action is also fair to both sides in this case, as it is a vehicle for all class members to have their claims heard, and Beverly will not have to defend against the same assertion of liability in a multitude of different lawsuits,” Justice Robert Brown wrote.