Victims of nursing home abuse and neglect might be able to obtain compensation for losses and damages by filing a civil lawsuit against the nursing home. Experienced attorneys know how to handle such complicated cases. Unfortunately, some nursing home residents unknowingly give up their right to pursue a lawsuit if abuse or neglect occurs. Seniors may sign paperwork with an arbitration clause, which limits the ability of seniors or family members to pursue a claim in court for damages.
Because arbitration clauses can have a significant impact on your rights by removing abuse cases from the court system, it is important you understand the implications of these clauses and make informed decisions before signing one. Make sure a lawyer looks at any paperwork from a nursing home before you or loved one signs anything. If you signed an arbitration clause, an attorney can help you determine if that clause will be enforceable and what your rights are within the confines of the arbitration proceedings.
Nursing Homes are Turning to Arbitration Clauses to Prevent Abuse Lawsuits
Oklahoma Watch reported a third of nursing homes and half of assisted-living centers in Oklahoma have binding arbitration agreements residents must sign. While this study was focused on Oklahoma, the use of arbitration clauses crosses state boundaries. Many nursing care facilities embrace this practice throughout the United States.
The U.S. Department of Human Services recently attempted to collect data from nursing homes and assisted-living centers to determine how many have arbitration clauses. However, approximately 40 percent of nursing homes did not submit their paperwork and close to 30 percent of assisted-living facilities did not provide the requested information. Of the homes and facilities that did not send in their documents, there is concern that many have arbitration clauses. This means the actual number of nursing facilities and assisted-living centers that make residents sign away their right to a lawsuit may be well over 33 percent.
Arbitration clauses have become a common tool to avoid litigation where there is a significant chance of juries awarding large damages to plaintiffs injured due to nursing home abuse or neglect. The state's nursing home care act in Oklahoma where the study was conducted actually prohibits the use of arbitration agreements in nursing homes, stating residents cannot be forced to sign away their rights as a condition of being admitted to a care facility. However, two federal court rulings undermined this state effort to protect nursing home residents and made it impossible for the state to enforce the ban on arbitration agreements.
In 2010, McKnights reported an Alabama Supreme Court case in which the highest court in the state upheld a nursing home arbitration agreement. The agreement was signed by the daughter of a woman admitted to a nursing home. The patient admitted to the home subsequently suffered injuries including dehydration, a urinary tract infection, and other mental and physical harm. The Supreme Court said dispute over the woman's care had to be settled in arbitration because the mother had given apparent authority to the daughter to sign the clause limiting her right to sue.
Since the Court has shown a strong willingness to enforce arbitration clauses even under these circumstances, anyone who signs an arbitration agreement in Alabama could be forced to resolve their case in front of an arbitrator.