Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements Can be Tossed

When a 100-year-old woman was murdered by her 97-year-old roommate in a Massachusetts nursing home seven years ago, some might have thought it simply an unforeseeable tragedy. After all the perpetrator was suffering from dementia, and aside from a few minor spates, the women appeared to get along fairly well. oldwomanwheelchair

However, the victim’s son, who is seeking accountability from the nursing home, alleges the incident was foreseeable and the center had a duty to protect his mother from her attacker, someone who was identified as a known threat to herself and others.

But legally, plaintiff has been caught up in a legal snag in trying to obtain recompense from the facility. 

It’s known as an arbitration agreement, and it’s become standard in most nursing abuse admission contracts. Unfortunately, many courts have upheld these contracts as valid, sometimes even when the patient who signs them may have been suffering from a mental illness or defect, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

Plaintiffs hoping to successfully circumvent these arbitration agreements is to approach this as you would any other contract. The basics of contract law hold that one person cannot sign on behalf of another without the proper legal authority. In many cases, family members or spouses sign these papers on behalf of the person being admitted. However, unless they have the legal right to do so – usually granted by court order – no one has the authority to sign away the legal rights of someone else. Even someone designated as the health care proxy of a loved one isn’t vested with the right to act as legal representative in such matters.

So why does this matter? Because arbitration agreements strip basic rights from those who have been deeply and profoundly wronged by the actions of nursing home negligence and nursing home abuse. It forces any disputes to be resolved before an arbitrator, rather than a judge and jury. That means the proceedings – and the outcome – are usually confidential. Not only does that mean less incentive for negligent nursing homes to settle, it keeps critical details away from other potential victims. What’s more, arbitration outcomes are often substantially less favorable to victims, resulting in fewer settlements and/or lower settlement amounts.

It’s almost always worthwhile to fight to take a case to court, rather than hammer it out in arbitration, where defendants have the upper hand.

The allegations of nursing home negligence in the Massachusetts case are slated to be heard in court this month, after a long battle just to get the case into a court room.

Plaintiff, the 100-year-old homicide victim’s son, first had to prove to a judge that he shouldn’t be forced to hand the case over to an arbitrator because although he signed that arbitration agreement for his mother, he wasn’t legally authorized to do so. The court agreed, which means he can now have his day in court to fight for justice on his mother’s behalf.

It is alleged the nursing home knew or should have known the 97-year-old dementia patient should have been in her own room and under heightened supervision after it was noted in her chart she was “at risk to harm herself or others.” In addition to dementia, she also reportedly suffered from delusions, depression, anxiety and paranoia.

The roommate was reportedly envious of victim’s many family members who often came to visit. She also accused her of stealing, of having too many flowers and too many visitors. Still, victim would take her lunches in their shared room so that her roommate, who disliked eating in the dining hall, wouldn’t have to eat alone.

In his nursing home negligence lawsuit, plaintiff, victim’s son, alleges he asked the staffers if his mother could have a new roommate. His mother was too kind, he said, to ask on her own. However, staff turned down his request, saying there was no problem.

A month later, she was dead, strangled with a plastic paper bag. Her roommate was arrested, but was deemed not fit to stand trial on criminal charges.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Pivotal Nursing Home Suit Raises a Simple Question: Who Signed the Contract? Feb. 21, 2016, By Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenburg, The New York Times

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