Scales of justice

One of the country’s largest senior living operators is pushing back against a potential class action lawsuit in California, calling its claims “baseless” and “categorically false.” The outcome could affect operators across the country.

Sunrise Senior Living made the comments to the New York Times for an article about what the newspaper described as an “ongoing campaign” of lawsuits against large assisted living operators doing business in the Golden State. The complaints maintain that when resident assessments reveal increasing care and service needs, fees may increase, but staffing levels may not. Plaintiffs’ attorney Kathryn Stebner told the newspaper that the practice could be considered financial elder abuse and that the assisted living business model can be “fraudulent.”

In 2016, according to the article, a group of law firms settled with Emeritus / Brookdale Senior Living for $13 million and Atria Senior Living for $6.4 million, and lawsuits against Aegis Living and Oakmont Senior Living are pending court decisions about whether they will be certified as class actions.

Sunrise reportedly argued in court that documents sought by plaintiffs’ attorneys were “protected trade secrets,” but the judge disagreed. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are said to be seeking class action status for the lawsuits and also want the judge to force operators to change their practices.

“[I]f the plaintiffs win further settlements, lawyers in other states may start taking notes,” author Paula Span wrote.

Sunrise was No. 4 on Argentum’s 2019 list of largest senior living providers and No. 5 on the American Seniors Housing Association’s 2019 ASHA 50 list of largest senior living operators.