Legal-Ease: Sometimes the law is simply unfair

Sometimes the law is incredibly consistent, simple and easy to understand. Other times, especially in certain areas of the law, the law consists of multiple sets of rules piled on top of each other with conflicts and inconsistencies that themselves are resolved through even more rules.

Some confusing, inconsistent and flat-out conflicting laws deal with citizens’ interactions with government authorities in particular.

For example, several years ago, I represented a farmer who thought that he was bound by a government program that did not allow the farmer to commercially farm his property. This was because the farmer thought that he was enrolled in a government program that required him to keep the property in a wildlife habitat.

Later, a government office contacted the farmer to tell him that the property was actually not enrolled in that specific wildlife habitat program, such that the farmer could actually commercially farm the property. The farmer then re-checked with multiple government offices who all consistently, verbally and in writing, told him the same thing: that he could commercially farm the property.

Understandably, the farmer then cleared the trees and wild plants, installed drainage tile, and planted corn on the property. A month later, the government realized that the property actually was enrolled in the wildlife habitat program that precluded the property from being commercially farmed. Despite the repeated mistakes by the numerous government offices, the farmer was required to pay a large fine, mow down the existing corn crop and plant trees at his own expense.

A similar, unfortunate circumstance arises in the context of applying for Medicaid to help pay for nursing home or similar long term care services. The Medicaid rules sometimes penalize people who try to do the right thing.

For example, if a person gives a gift to someone else during the five-year lookback period for Medicaid, the gift receiver may try to return the gift so that there is no penalty for the giver who applies for Medicaid. However, if the gift receiver only returns part of the gift to the Medicaid applicant, the returned gift amount does not help to pay toward the penalty. Thus, the law makes it financially disadvantageous to try to help a family member in this context if the entire gift is not returned to the gift giver who is applying for Medicaid.

Further, almost everyone in our society has a complaint about our tax system. Although virtually nobody agrees on the best solution, everyone dislikes the inconsistency and sometimes clearly unfair outcomes that our current tax system causes.

Outside of confusing laws when interacting with the government, the fact that winning parties to lawsuits almost never get attorney’s fees makes the system inherently unfair. On top of that, illustratively, if someone is hurt in a car accident caused by someone else, that hurt person may get reimbursed for lost pay, but work experience and chances for professional promotion are simply lost due to absolutely no fault of the hurt person.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.