Elder Abuse: Are Granny Cams a Solution, a Compliance Burden, or Both?

In Minnesota, 97% of the 25,226 allegations of elder abuse (neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries and thefts) in state-licensed senior facilities in 2016 were never investigated. This prompted Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, to announce plans last week to form a task force to find out why. As one might expect, Minnesota is not alone. A studypublished in 2011 found that an estimated 260,000 (1 in 13) older adults in New York had been victims of one form of abuse or another during a 12-month period between 2008 and 2009, with “a dramatic gap” between elder abuse events reported and the number of cases referred to formal elder abuse services. Clearly, states are struggling to protect a vulnerable and growing group of residents from abuse. Technologies such as hidden cameras may help to address the problem, but their use raises privacy, security, compliance, and other concerns.

With governmental agencies apparently lacking the resources to identify, investigate, and respond to mounting cases of elder abuse in the long-term care services industry, and the number of persons in need of long-term care services on the rise, this problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. According to a 2016 CDC report concerning users of long-term care services, more than 9 million people in the United States receive regulated long-term care services. These numbers are only expected to increase. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that

by 2050, the number of individuals using paid long-term care services in any setting (e.g., at home, residential care such as assisted living, or skilled nursing facilities) will likely double from the 13 million using services in 2000, to 27 million people.

However, technologies such as hidden cameras are making it easier for families and others to step in and help protect their loved ones. In fact, some states are implementing measures to leverage these technologies to help address the problem of elder abuse. For example, New Jersey’s Attorney General recently expanded the “Safe Care Cam” program which lends cameras and memory cards to Garden State residents who suspect their loved ones may be victims of abuse by an in-home caregiver.

Common known as “granny cams,” these easy-to-hide devices which can record video and sometimes audio are being strategically placed in nursing homes, long-term care, and residential care facilities. For example, the “Charge Cam” (pictured above) is designed to look like and actually function as a plug used to charge smartphone devices. Once plugged in, it is able to record eight hours of video and sound. For a nursing home resident’s family concerned about the treatment of the resident, use of a “Charge Cam” or similar device could be a very helpful way of getting answers to their suspicions of abuse. However, for the unsuspecting nursing home or other residential or long-term care facility, as well as for the well-meaning family members, the use of these devices can pose a number of issues and potential risks. Here are just some questions that should be considered:

  • Is there a state law that specifically addresses “granny cams”? Note that at least five states (Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington) have laws specifically addressing the use of cameras in this context. In Illinois, for example, the resident and the resident’s roommate must consent to the camera, and notice must be posted outside the resident’s room to alert those entering the room about the recording.
  • Is consent required from all of the parties to conversations that are recorded by the device?
  • Do the HIPAA privacy and security regulations apply to the video and audio recordings that contain individually identifiable health information of the resident or other residents whose information is captured in the video or audio recorded?
  • How do the features of the device, such as camera placement and zoom capabilities, affect the analysis of the issues raised above?
  • How can the validity of a recording be confirmed?
  • What effects will there be on employee recruiting and employee retention?
  • If the organization permits the device to be installed, what rights and obligations does it have with respect to the scope, content, security, preservation, and other aspects of the recording?

Just as body cameras for police are viewed by some as a way to help address concerns over police brutality allegations, some believe granny cams can serve as a deterrent to abuse of residents at long-term care and similar facilities. However, families and facilities have to consider these technologies carefully.

This post was written by Joseph J. Lazzarotti  of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more legal analysis, go to The National Law Review 

Half-Billion Dollar Arbitration Award in Trade Secrets Case Affirmed by Minnesota Supreme Court in Trade Secrets Dispute

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The Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed an arbitrator’s eye-popping award of $525 million plus prejudgment interest totaling $96 million and post-award interest in a trade secrets dust up between Seagate Technology, LLC and Western Digital Corporation, et al. Seagate Technology, LLC v. Western Digital Corporation, et al and Sining Mao, No. A12-1994 (Minn. October 8, 2014).  The Court’s decision is replete with lessons about the legal boundaries, risks, and protections for litigants in arbitration. It is notable also for the magnitude of the award which was, in part, the consequence of falsified evidence.

Seagate designs and manufactures hard disk drives for computers. Sining Mao was a senior director for advanced head concepts at Seagate working on technology that involves incorporating tunneling magnetoresistance (“TMR”) in to read heads to improve storage capacity. When he was hired by Seagate, he signed an employment agreement which included a requirement to preserve the confidentiality of trade secrets and to return company documents. The employment agreement contained an arbitration clause which stated, in part, that the “arbitrator may grant injunctions or other relief in such controversy” arising out of the agreement.  Arbitration was subject to the rules of the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”).

Mao left Seagate in September 2006 to join Western Digital, a competitor. Seagate then commenced a district court action seeking injunctive relief and alleging misappropriation of trade secrets related to TMR technology.  Western Digital invoked the arbitration clause of Mao’s employment agreement with Seagate, and the district court stayed the lawsuit pending arbitration.

Things started to go south for Western Digital and Mao argued that three of the alleged trade secrets had been publicly disclosed before Mao left Seagate because they were included in a PowerPoint presentation he gave at a conference.  Seagate argued that Mao had fabricated and inserted additional PowerPoint slides containing the information after the fact to make it appear as if this information had been made public.  The arbitrator found that “[t]he fabrications were obvious. There is no question that Western Digital had to know of the fabrications and yet continued to represent to the Arbitrator that Dr. Mao did in fact insert the disputed slides at the time of the conferences.” The arbitrator found that the fabrication and Western Digital’s complicity was an egregious form of litigation misconduct that warranted severe sanctions.

Specifically, the arbitrator precluded any evidence or defense by Western Digital and Mao disputing the validity of the three trade secrets or any defense to the allegation of misappropriation or use of the three trade secrets, which resulted entry of judgment on liability and monetary damages in the amount of $525 million, calculated based on an unjust enrichment method. Western Digital brought a motion to vacate the award in district court. The district court granted the motion in part, finding that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority under the arbitration agreement.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court on the ground that Western Digital had waived its right to challenge the arbitrator’s ability to issue punitive sanctions by not raising the issue with the arbitrator himself (and because Western Digital had earlier sought sanctions against Seagate in the same matter).

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals although based on a different analysis. The Supreme Court held that Western Digital did not waive its right to challenge the Arbitrator’s authority under Minnesota statutes regarding arbitrations and requests for vacatur, specifically Minn. Stat. Section 572.19.   The high Court then went on to conclude that the arbitrator did have the authority to impose the disputed sanctions, looking at the employment agreement, AAA arbitration rules, and case law.

The Court noted that:

Some believe that arbitration has benefits, potentially including faster resolution and less expense than the judicial system as well as a higher degree of confidentiality. But the benefits come with costs, including significantly less oversight of decisions, evidentiary and otherwise, and very limited review of the final award. Here, despite the best efforts of experienced appellate counsel to argue otherwise, Mao and Western Digital’s decision to demand arbitration necessarily limited the availability of the protections and advantages of the judicial system.

It is unclear if a district court could have reached the same result as the arbitrator in the Seagate case, but the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision suggests that arbitrators can have greater discretion than judges.  The case certainly highlights the fact that arbitration may not always be the best forum, depending on which side of the dispute you are on.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2014