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Florida Nursing Home Arbitration Agreements: Neither Wise Nor Necessary, Part 1

A disturbing trend has taken hold in the elder care industry, with the goal of discouraging or making it nearly impossible for one to file a nursing home abuse lawsuit in Coral Springs.
It involves compelling residents and resident caretakers to sign arbitration agreements prior to allowing the patient to stay in the facility. Arbitration agreements strip patients of the right to file lawsuits, instead requiring that any disputes arising regarding the quality of care must be settled by a professional arbitrator. Handling claims this way, as opposed to in court, is generally considered advantageous to the nursing home.

For one thing, arbitration is quite expensive. In addition to hiring an attorney, the patient and/or family is responsible for paying the arbitrator’s fees, which can sometimes work out to hundreds of dollars hourly. By contrast, in a wrongful death or negligence lawsuit, taxpayer funds pay the salary of judges.

What’s more, arbitration results are often concealed per confidentiality rules, compared to civil lawsuits in a public courtroom. This helps to hold the facility and the industry responsible.

And finally, you can generally expect to receive less in compensation if the case is heard by an arbitrator as opposed to a jury trial. The Washington Post reported last year that an analysis by Aon Global Risk Consulting revealed that of 1,500 closed claims against long-term care providers between 2003 and 2011 involved no money awarded in one-third of claims where a valid arbitration agreement was in place. Compare that to non-arbitration cases, where less than 20 percent resulted in no payment to the plaintiff.

In cases without arbitration agreements, 12 percent of claims resulted in awards to the plaintiff of $250,000 or more. In cases with arbitration agreements, however, only 8.5 percent of claims reflected this size of award.

It becomes easy to understand then why many nursing homes are pushing this option on patients and their loved ones.

Most of the time, these “mandatory” arbitration agreements are tucked into the massive package of admissions documents that many nursing homes thrust before patients and loved ones shortly before admittance. Many times, patients sign off on these documents after only just glancing at the content. But the consequences can be serious.

What many people don’t understand is that “mandatory” arbitration agreements generally aren’t mandatory at all. Practices at individual facilities may vary somewhat, but the American Health Care Association does not support a requirement that patients sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of admission, so most facilities don’t.

If you’ve already signed an agreement and find yourself having regrets, most have a one-month opt-out provision that allows you to change your mind and retain your right to file suit.

But even if it’s too late to revoke your earlier signature, there are plenty of cases where judges determined the arbitration agreements weren’t valid.

In our next blog, we’ll be discussing how it’s possible to overcome an arbitration agreement and get your claim heard in court instead.

Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC, Jan. 14, 2014, Massachusetts Supreme Court

Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare, Inc., Jan. 13, 2014, Massachusetts Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Lack of Oversight in Nursing Home Care Industry, Nov. 30, 2013, Coral Springs Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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