Nursing home neglect and abuse are devastating to seniors, who depend upon a nursing facility to provide them with the care they need. Unfortunately, many seniors and their families are prevented from filing civil lawsuits against nursing homes because admissions papers signed when entering facilities have binding arbitration clauses. These arbitration clauses can make it significantly more difficult to obtain compensation.
Now, however, a federal law could prevent nursing homes from putting abuse and neglect victims and their families into this situation. The government is considering putting safeguards into place regulating the way arbitration agreements are presented when residents are admitted. While some argue federal laws will not go far enough, at least new regulations would be a step towards protecting the rights of vulnerable seniors.
Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Regulation is Necessary to Protect Abuse and Neglect Victims
NPR illustrates why stronger regulations are necessary for nursing home arbitration agreements. One patient, according to NPR, was checked into a nursing home after his dementia became so bad he forgot how to drink water. Within just two weeks of his family placing him in a nursing home, he lost 20 pounds and went into a coma. The cause of his ailments was dehydration, as the nursing facility was not keeping him properly hydrated. While medical intervention caused his fluid levels to go up, he was unable to recover and he died within a month.
His wife pursued a claim against the nursing home, but because she had signed a binding arbitration agreement when her husband was admitted to the nursing home facility, she had to take her case to an arbitrator. She won, and was awarded compensation. However, the bill for the arbitrators was more than $60,000, and the nursing home and the wife each had to pay half of the cost. The costs associated with arbitration, expert witnesses, and other expenditures necessary to bring the case left the grieving widow with under $20,000 in compensation.
Like many family members who admit loved ones to nursing homes under difficult circumstances, the widow in this case was likely not fully aware of the rights she was giving up when signing the binding arbitration clause.
The federal government wants to ensure things like this do not occur again. Proposed new regulations would require nursing homes to explain arbitration agreements before family members sign them, and would prohibit nursing homes from making the signing of arbitration agreements a requirement before patients can be admitted to nursing homes.
Consumer groups, attorneys general from 15 states, and 34 U.S. Senators believe such arbitration agreements should be banned completely, rather than just better regulated. More than 50 consumer organizations also believe the agreements should be banned. However, even if the federal government does not go that far, at least they should help ensure family members are not left without justice when someone they love is victimized just because that person didn't understand papers being signed.