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VOL. 127 | NO. 206 | Monday, October 22, 2012

Hospital Liens Escalate in Third Quarter

By Bill Dries

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Circuit Court filings for the third quarter of 2012 were up from a year ago while Chancery and Probate Court filings were down.

The filings for the three civil courts, as followed by The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com, also included a spike in hospital liens filed in Circuit Court.

The 607 liens filed by hospitals for insurance payments patients receive was the top category accounting for a third of the 1,884 cases filed in Circuit from July 1 to Sept. 30.

A year ago the liens numbered 374.

Divorces with and without children, which is usually the top category, remained about the same at 486 compared to 481 the same period a year ago. Civil claims connected to auto accidents were the third-highest category with 285 filings.

The total number of third-quarter filings in Circuit is a 20.6 percent increase from the 1,686 filings in the third quarter of 2011.

The 394 Chancery Court filings represented a 20.9 percent drop from 442 the same period a year ago.

Divorces remained the top category at 129 with 59 delinquent tax claims filed and 32 workers compensation claims. A year ago divorces were a bit higher at 158 with breach of contract claims second followed by complaints for damages.

The 273 Probate Court filings in Q3 were a 7 percent increase from the 254 in the third quarter of 2011.

The 139 wills filed marked the largest category followed by 67 administrators, 58 conservatorships and nine guardian appointments. Conservatorships had been the second-highest category and administrators the third highest a year ago.

The change is rare in the Probate Court numbers, which are usually the most consistent of the civil court numbers.

The conservatorships are an area of state law that has changed in the last year with some new state laws and proposals for other measures. Both are being examined by the Tennessee Bar Association at a set of hearings across the state that began in Nashville last month.

The Memphis session on conservatorship laws is Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

“We’re probably going to offer proposed amendments to the current statutes,” said Jackson, Tenn., attorney Pam Wright of West Tennessee Legal Services, who is coordinating the input sessions. “We’re looking at specific things that might need to be addressed in the statute.”

Petitioners for conservatorships and the conservators appointed by Probate Court have to report whether they have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony at any point in their lives.

The law was passed this year after stories in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville this year about Jewell Tinnon. The Nashville woman had her house and possessions sold off by conservators who were relatives she had not seen for six years.

“The petitioner is just a person who has knowledge and interest,” said Memphis attorney Deborah K. Brooks, who will be among those taking input at the Memphis hearing. Brooks’ practice is primarily in the area of elder law.

“Sometimes it can just be a person at a nursing home who sees a person needs help,” she said. “I’m afraid it may dissuade some potential petitioners who see people in trouble from filing needed conservatorship actions.”

Wright said the motivation behind the laws appear to address “common problems” based on comments from the hearings so far.

“Some courts probably need more information,” she added. “There’s probably a need for some kind of training and education of individuals who are named to be conservators of what is expected of them.”

A proposal the Tennessee Legislature is expected to take up next year would bar Probate Court judges from appointing guardian ad litems for someone 60 or older. The guardian ad litem performs an investigation including talking to doctors about the person’s medical condition and looking at bank records as well as other items that figure into a recommendation to the court.

Brooks acknowledges there might be concerns about who is watching the money involved. But she said the age requirement seems arbitrary.

“The statute allows the court to waive a guardian ad litem in any case if they think it’s not necessary. And it does happen from time to time. I’m happy with that,” Brooks said. “But just to offhandedly waive a guardian ad litem just because somebody happens to be 60 or over, that’s a problem I have with this proposal.”

Wright said the discussion won’t be limited to statutes and could also involve recommendations on training for attorneys, judges, conservators and guardians.

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