An 86-year-old woman was left blind in one eye following abuse in her Alabama nursing home. A 25-year-old nurses aid struck the senior violently in the face, causing the damage. According to Alabama.com, the elderly woman was taken to UAB Hospital in Birmingham where doctors operated to try to save her vision. They were unable to do so.
The nursing aide who caused the blindness was sentenced on felony charges of elder abuse and could face as long as 20 years imprisonment. The senior who was harmed is still living in her nursing home, but she will never recover vision in her left eye again.
This is one of many tragic examples of nursing home abuse that occur in the Alabama area each year. When victims are hurt by caregivers who are supposed to help them, they should be able to pursue a civil lawsuit for damages. Unfortunately, many nursing homes were preventing them from doing so. The good news is, now the federal government has stepped in and restored the rights of nursing home residents to file suit.
Nursing home residents were having their rights restricted because nursing home were increasingly including arbitration clauses in admissions agreements. The arbitration clauses mandated any disagreements, disputes, or legal actions against the nursing home would be resolved in arbitration.
New York Times explains the myriad problems with the inclusion of these clauses in nursing home admissions paperwork. Arbitration clauses are creeping up everywhere, in all kinds of contracts, and are essentially creating a shadow justice system which is parallel to the system in the courts that is supposed to provide legal remedies. Consumers, not just in nursing homes, but in many different areas of their lives, are being stripped of their rights to sue and forced to turn to arbitrators to resolve disagreements.
Arbitrators, unfortunately, can sometimes be subconsciously biased in favor of the companies which are involved in repeated arbitration proceedings, rather than to individuals who arbitrate only one dispute. The arbitration is often conducted in the offices of the lawyers who represent the companies accused of wrongdoing, and the Times indicates the proceedings bear little or no resemblance to civil court cases.
Arbitration is also secretive, which means it has the effect of keeping embarrassing information under wraps. If a senior sues a nursing home, the lawsuit filing and oftentimes the court transcripts and outcomes of the preceding are public record. People can look at them, newspapers can publish them, and consumers can find out about the wrongdoing which has occurred. With arbitration clauses, on the other hand, everything happens behind closed doors and the egregious behaviors of nursing homes never comes to light. This puts more vulnerable people at risk.
The good news is, Health and Human Services has now banned the use of arbitration clauses in nursing home admissions paperwork for all homes receiving federal funding, which the vast majority of nursing homes do. Seniors in these facilities now will not need to worry their right to sue will be curtailed by an arbitration agreement they may not have understood.